Sep 27 2018

Use Personalized Learning Tools to Boost Classroom Equity

iNACOL experts weigh in on how education technology can even the playing field for students.

As personalized learning continues to gain momentum across the U.S., more states, districts and schools are moving toward a competency-based education system that focuses on individualized learning and classroom equity. But what exactly is a competency-based education system, and what role does technology play in the design and support of this system?

In a recent webinar from the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, titled “Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed,” education consultant Katherine Casey explains the key ways a competency-based system differs from a traditional system.

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery, not based on time.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and disposition.

All of these things add up to more equity in the classroom, which, according to the National Equity Project, means “each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out where teachers can turn to fund personalized learning initiatives!

Classroom Technology Strengthens Competency-Based Assessment

When it comes to creating a competency-based education system, Casey explains that while technology isn’t a replacement for any of the core aspects of learning, it can “enable, accelerate and directly support personalization.”

Here are three ways Casey says technology can help support the development of a competency-based education system and create more equity in the classroom:

  • Technology can be part of a developing a more authentic system of assessment, Casey says. “Whether you’re talking about the use of technology to enable portfolio work, or technology that can provide diagnostic and formative assessment early on, I think the role technology can play creates a more robust system of assessment designed for learning.”
  • Technology tools can support personalization by helping ensure learners can work within their own zones of proximal development while helping the teacher manage that, as well. 
  • Technology can also play a critical part in the feedback loop. In a competency-based system, pedagogy should be based on what we know about learning science and how the brain works. “We know that feedback cycles are so, so critical to learning. So, the role of technology in providing learners with very immediate feedback and evidence about where they are in their learning and then also providing teachers with those feedback loops, as well as about where students are and where [teachers] are in their practice, is really important,” Casey says.

As Susan Patrick, president and CEO of iNACOL explains, effective technology is an important part of designing a competency-based system, but “just layering technology over the old model won’t help you meet the need of all of our students.” Instead, schools need to choose technology that provides teachers with access to the digital resources, digital content and digital tools that can really help show where students are in their learning.

Digital Tools Help K–12 Teachers Address Student Needs

For Patrick, three of the most important pieces of technology that help teachers pinpoint where each student is in their learning and then empower educators to meet students’ needs through personalized learning are learning management systems, e-portfolios, and virtual reality systems

  • Learning management systems help teachers and students can see what standards or lessons students are working on and whether they are proficient, not yet proficient or they’ve exceeded mastery. 
  • E-portfolios give teachers and students a place to record student learning and provide evidence that a student is proficient or advanced.
  • Virtual reality technology gives students opportunities to explore everything from oceans to cosmic phenomena to life in other eras, while still asking students to exhibit their learning through evidence.

Interest in competency-based education is growing across the U.S. The number of states with policies in place to promote and facilitate competency-based systems has grown from just a handful in 2004 to 43 states in 2018. For resources and information about competency-based learning systems, visit

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