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Brief statement of principle

Personalization is a process by which features of an instructional component are designed to match up with students' personal interests, experiences, or typical patterns of language use in order to increase robust learning through increased motivation.

Description of principle

Instructional tasks are often presented in ways that do not connect with the experiences and interests of individual students. Instructional programs, and specific tasks in those programs, are typically developed to work with large groups of students. Instruction can be provided on and individual bases according to domain factors such as connections to particular knowledge components, but differentiation with respect to motivational factors is less common.

Personalization is a process by which features of an instructional component are designed to match up with students' personal interests, experiences, or typical patterns of language use in order to increase robust learning through increased motivation.

Trade-offs must be considered because personalization may alter instruction in such a way that interferes with other principles, such as by reducing the amount of practice or distracting the student with interesting but irrelevant material.

Operational definition

Recent work has considered at least the following two forms of personalization:

sense similar to Clark & Mayer, 2003

Presenting language (text or speech) to the student using first- and second-person pronouns, as well as polite and informal language.

sense similar to Cordova & Lepper, 1996

Tailoring instructional content to match the learner's personal interests or preferences.


Cordova and Lepper (1996) reported positive effects of personalization and choice within an educational game for children in the domain of arithmetic. Those studies found that both personalization and choice played important roles: students given a choice of personalized tasks outperformed students given tasks without choice and/or without personalization.

In the REAP Tutor, the curriculum is personalized so that students receive series of practice readings that match up with their personal interests in general topic categories (e.g., Business, Arts, Science). Trade-offs were found between finding texts of interest, which appeared to improve learning, and finding texts with multiple practice opportunities.

McLaren, Yaron, Lin, and Koedinger (2007), in tutoring system for chemistry, compared hints and directions written in a formal tone to those written in a more polite and conversational manner in order to increase engagement

Experimental support

Non-experimental support

Teachers often attempt to connect classroom material to students’ personal interests in order to increase motivation (Fives and Manning, 2005).

Laboratory experiment support

In vivo experiment support

Theoretical rationale

Conditions of application

Caveats, limitations, open issues, or dissenting views

Attractive multimedia environments are often used in order to increase motivation through situational interest. However, Clark and Mayer (2003) caution against adding irrelevant information such as background music that may distract learners. Such extraneous information is often labeled as seductive details, and in some studies has been shown to have negative effects on learning even while interest increases (Harp and Mayer, 1998).

Although Cordova and Lepper (1996) found positive effects of personalization for school age children, the extent to which personalization affects learning in older children and adults is less clear.

Personalization should be distinguished from choice. For example, Beck (2007) reported improvements in learning outcomes in a reading tutor when children were given a choice of practice reading passages based on their titles. However, it is unclear from that study whether the improvements were due solely to choice or the fact that students could choose texts that were more interesting or otherwise better practice.

Motivational concerns often interact with domain-based concerns. Del Soldato and Du Boulay (1995) provide a detailed discussion of the interaction of domain-based goals and motivational goals related to perceived self-efficacy. They developed a rule-based system for choosing the level of difficulty of problems, provision of assistance, use of praise and other strategies for affecting self-efficacy and motivation based on student performance and estimates of student motivational states.

Variations (descendants)

Generalizations (ascendants)


Beck, J. (2007). Does learner control affect learning? Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education, Los Angeles, CA.

Cordova, D. I. & Lepper, M. R. (1996). Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning: Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice. Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol. 88,l No. 4, 715-730.

Clark, R. C. and Mayer, R. E. (2003). e-Learning and the Science of Instruction. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

del Soldato, T., Du Boulay, B. 1995. Implementation of motivational tactics in tutoring systems. Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education. Volume 6 , Issue 4.