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Personalisation: definition and description

The term 'personalisation' is relatively new to the UK and Europe and is currently more commonly applied to schools and colleges than HE. It refers to the requirement for public services to be designed for and responsive to the needs of individuals. It applies to a cross-section of state provision, including health, social care and education. It implies giving users more say in navigating their way through services; giving users a more direst say over how money is spent on services; and viewing users not just as consumers but as co-designers and co-producers of services.

In education, this notion implies that personalisation can be used to promote learning and encourage students to become co-producers of their own learning.

Personalisation builds upon constructivist theory, which emphasises the importance of learning as a process involving social interaction; the incorporation of prior learning and environmental factors into the learning process; the active engagement of the learner; and the ability to reflect on learning. From this perspective, learning ability is not fixed, but capable of development. The challenge is to foster an environment within which
that development can most effectively take place.

In 2006, the DfES publication Personalising Further Education: Developing a vision, characterised personalisation as:

  • responding to the needs of the whole person by anticipating, identifying and addressing each learner's needs and responding with personalised support that removes barriers and delivers success
  • seeking and responding to views of the learner in ways that deliver an excellent learning experience, support employability and enhance personal development
  • responding to the needs of local community and employers through a flexible curriculum and tailored approaches to respond to the needs of hard-to-reach groups
  • raising the ambitions of all learners by enabling them to make informed choices
    based on an understanding of their long-term goals
  • supporting every learner to become expert by fostering the learner's ability to negotiate with tutors and achieve to their highest potential
  • encouraging individuals to take responsibility by providing approaches and tools to enable them to become independent and effective learners fostering openness and trust where learners help shape services and the organisation.

At the time of writing the Personalisation documents (2008), no comparable production of policy documents and stimulation of debate on personalisation within the context of UK HE had taken place.

The First Year Experience Enhancement Theme found colleagues in the sector uncertain about the term 'personalisation' and what it means. A number of suggestions were offered at workshops. What all of them had in common, however, was recognition of the student as an individual and as a member of a learning community. More comprehensively, the following was offered as an explanation of personalisation and its different facets: Personalisation refers to the creation and use of a learning environment that both supports the individual learning journey and acts as a social space for professional, individual and collective purposes.

In this sense, personalisation can also be seen as the opposite to 'alienation' and 'generalisation'. Thus, personalisation, particularly in the first year, contains elements of:

  • academic personalisation: dealing with learning and learning demands at/in HE
  • social personalisation: dealing with being in HE and alien environments
  • professional personalisation: learning with and from others (tutors and peers)