Personalized Learning Plans and Competency-Based Education

Personalized Learning Plans and Competency-Based Education

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4237-8.ch002
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This chapter is designed to inform teachers, administrators, and educational policymakers on the background of personalized learning plans (PLPs), the definition of a PLP, components of a PLP, and the research involving the use of PLPs. In recent years, states have spearheaded initiatives involving PLPs, either requiring the use of them through mandates or encouraging school personnel to use some sort of individualized plans for students to connect their K-12 experiences with postsecondary plans. The chapter also addresses competency-based education, which is often implemented in conjunction with personalized learning. The chapter provides an introduction, background information, and a brief history of PLPs and competency-based education. Additional resources are included as well.
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Personalized Learning Plans


A personalized learning plan (PLP) is the key to all personalized learning (PL). Sometimes these documents are referred to as individualized learning plans (ILPs), individualized graduate plans, or individualized career and graduate plans. In order to standardize the conversation, all individualized or personalized documents about PL will be referred to in this chapter as PLPs. A PLP is a working document that connects the student to learning goals and allows a strategy for the student to explore career options and prepare for postsecondary work or school. No longer are students’ long-term college and career goals disconnected from the here and now. Students are able to ground themselves in tangible, real-time methods to work toward and achieve their goals. Using PLPs helps to differentiate PL from differentiated or individualized education.

Picture a PLP as a roadmap for the student. It is a document that not only identifies where students are in their educational path but also allows students to explore and identify which educational or career path to take and the steps to take in order to meet that goal. In short, a PLP is the through line that connects the student’s courses, assessments, and experiences in school to what the student wants to do outside of and after high school graduation. Personalized learning plans create relevance for the students by weaving in- and out-of-school experiences. Personalized learning plans provide students agency in their learning because they take interest in and decide what is most relevant for them. Bray and McClaskey (2017) referred to PLPs as a way for the student to access, engage, and express goals for skill development. Moreover, because PL is currently still struggling to gain a foothold—it does not have a set definition, there is limited research, and there is not an agreed-upon set of best practices—the PLP provides a consistency that is otherwise missing.


The idea of a teacher taking an assessment of what skills a student possesses regarding talent level, skills, interests, and abilities and then predicting what the student needs in the future to accomplish set learning goals is not a new concept. Armed with student data, interest surveys, and a little intuition, teachers make determinations and learning plans every school year for every student. John Dewey (1916/2009) talked about the importance of foresight, or keeping the end in mind, when he discussed the aims of education:

In the first place, it involves careful observation of the given conditions to see what are the means available for reaching the end, and to discover the hindrances in the way. In the second place, it suggests the proper order or sequence in the use of means. It facilitates an economical selection and arrangement. In the third place, it makes choice of alternatives possible. (p. 86)

What is different from what Dewey discussed or what teachers do every day is that PLPs share the power of assessment, foresight, and choice among the teachers, family members, and students.

Personalized learning plans are not just a promising educational practice arbitrarily found in random districts or states across the country. They are becoming common in districts and states across the country. In the fall of 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP), using an interactive map depicting ILPs across the United States, demonstrated that 34 states and the District of Columbia have policies mandating the use of a PLP with students. Ten states use PLPs but do not mandate their use, and seven states do not have a state-adopted PLP policy. Those states may use PLPs for certain groups of students. For example, they may determine PLP use by geographic location or certain populations. Personalized learning plans were originally intended for Grades 9-12, but now more states are implementing them for students beginning middle school.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Individualized Learning Plan Theory of Change: A way of planning, participating, and evaluating goals. Theory of change involves the use of ILPs.

Learning Management System (LMS): Software program that allows teachers to track students’ grades, attendance, communication, and behavior.

Individualized Learning Plan (ILP): A working document that not only summarizes the student’s experiences but also creates a road map for the future. Another name for this document is PLP.

Personalized Education Management System (PEMS): Like LMS, but this software includes opportunities for students to create an individual learning path and to track their goals and progress through a PLP.

Competency-Based Education (CBE): A system in which learning achievement is determined by students’ performances and the ability to show what they know versus seat time. Students move through the curriculum based on showing mastery.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals: A way to create meaningful objectives that are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time related.

Career Information Systems: Software that allows students to explore careers, job projections, and salary.

e-Portfolio: Electronic portfolio.

Personalized Learning Plan (PLP): See individualized learning plan.

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