Leveraging Personal Learner Profiles

By the midpoint of first quarter, teachers are in tune with their new group of learners. They note tendencies and behaviors. They design instruction around interests. Teachers’ precise radars sense something off when a student acts out of character. Special relationships with an unspoken language develop throughout the school year. Teachers notice because they care.

Despite the established rapport, not all learners enjoy the same experience. What students project on the surface is often misleading—a protective camouflage for school survival. How well do we really know each learner? There are pages missing from the entire story. While respecting the personal background of every student, how can we make better use of what we know?

The more time I invest in personalized learning, the more I recognize the impact of Personal Learner Profiles. In Make Learning Personal, Bray and McClaskey explain, “The PLP identifies how [individuals] learn best based on their strengths, challenges, interests, aspirations, talents, and passions. This is a very powerful tool because it validates learners and how they learn…It will also help them in collaboration with their teacher to design their learning goals based on how they best access information, engage with content, and express what they know and understand” (Bray and McClaskey, 2015).

Effective PLP’s are flexible, constantly revisited, adjusted to match new developments and meet academic needs. The learner profile includes basic bio information, including: background, learning preferences and strengths, interests, involvement, Gregorc’s mind styles, Zmuda and Kallick’s  habits of mind, and future plans. (Link to PLP Template)

An effective learner profile follows the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, identifying how each learner best accesses information, engages with the concept, and expresses evidence of learning. This can be accomplished early in the school year by creating a simple form allowing learners to consider their strengths and challenges in the three areas. Then, collect information about their preferences and needs for each.

  • Access – How do I prefer to access information? Do I learn best by listening to an instructor, watching a video, or reading text?
  • Engage – How do I prefer to interact with the material and practice a skill (experimenting, hands on, video, guided practice, reading)? Do I learn best on my own, with peers, or from the teacher (whole class instruction)?
  • Express – What’s the most effective way to show what I know and can do? Do I perform best on a traditional test, by writing about it (paper), by talking about it (live presentation, recorded video or screencast), or through a combination project where I can create something original and explain it?

I invite learners to revisit the characteristics of their mind style for examples or a review of why they find strength or struggle in various situations.

In addition to the obvious benefits of collecting information about learners, the personal learning profile answers questions that arise throughout the year. An effectively utilized PLP impacts the educational experience.

Reflective Practice

When students know how they learn, the are in control. School is no longer something that happens to them. By verbalizing the metacognitive process, learners increase confidence and efficacy. 

  • How do I learn best?
  • What is my greatest strategy for success in this situation?
  • Where may I challenge myself or extend beyond my comfort zone? It is important for the teacher to recognize this as well. Attacking a “challenge” or “struggle” is what we mean when we urge students to take risks (and they respond with blank stares…).

Initiate Conversations

When learners understand their learning, they become comfortable engaging in conversations with their teachers. These conversations are the heart of personalized learning. Teachers do not have to play guessing games or spend time differentiating to meet the needs of learners. Rather, teachers can adapt instruction with individual students and co-plan next steps for learning. The conversation naturally reduces teacher stress and learner anxiety. When learners are ready, teachers can ask, “What can you create as evidence of your learning?” The PLP can narrow the focus of options.


Pride in Accomplishment

A learner profile also serves as a portfolio (as simple as Google slides, site, or HyperDoc–see the link for Jennifer Gonzalez’s tips)—a place to showcase artifacts, highlight teacher feedback and comments, set goals, and reflect on growth. The portfolio provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in having created something that would not exist without the individual’s efforts. It also focuses the assessment process. Students can finally answer the question, “What did you learn in school?” They have evidence.

Communication for the Future

Why do we start over every year? In an ideal professional learning community, all students and their teachers would contribute to the portfolio and share it with next year’s staff. Although the idea of next year provides opportunities for a fresh start, we waste time when we press reset. The annual cycle is exhausting for students and teachers. We have the capability to welcome learners by meeting them where they’re at, allowing them to pick up where they left off.

Telling the Complete Story

Learning communities that leverage the power of PLP’s and portfolios communicate every learner’s unique story in greater detail than records and transcripts could ever tell. Parents, admissions counselors, and potential employers will appreciate the complete picture. Learner profiles provide a table of contents for chapters of the unwritten story we have an opportunity to co-author. Let’s fill blank pages with rich text and colorful illustrations this year.


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