After a $45 Billion Announcement, a Question Looms: What is Personalized Learning?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and co-founder of Facebook, plans to give away much of his wealth, and cites personalized learning as a particular interest

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, left, and Mark Zuckerberg, center, founder and CEO of Facebook listen as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie talks about the states schools, during a press conference at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, N.J., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010. Zuckerberg is there to talk about his donation of $100 million to help Newark public schools.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, left, and Mark Zuckerberg, center, founder and CEO of Facebook listen as N.J. Gov. Chris Christie talks about the states schools, during a press conference at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, N.J., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010. Zuckerberg was there to talk about his donation of $100 million to help Newark public schools. AP Photo/Rich Schultz

It remains to be seen exactly how and where Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, will spend the estimated $45 billion they’ve declared they will donate to charitable ventures, including education. But their announcement this week made one thing clear: in education, the two are focused on the potential of “personalized learning.”

For those who don’t follow education trends closely, the couple’s charity announcement Tuesday, in the form of an open letter to their newborn daughter, served to introduce the idea of “personalized learning.” Many people equate it with any classroom that is technology-rich, but that isn’t always the case. Personalized learning can be achieved without high-tech tools, and the underlying concept reaches back long before computers were commonplace. Generally speaking, personalized learning gives students lessons that match their individual preferences and needs. Children get choice and flexibility in how they will spend their school day. They can move faster or slower than peers; they are, at times, autodidacts. The idea is that this will be more engaging, and also prepare students to be independent and take responsibility for their own progress.

Here’s a look at some of the projects in education that Zuckerberg has already announced. They provide clues to what types of projects might get money and technical support in coming years.

Facebook founder and others invest $100 million in a private school model they hope can take root in the public system

A technology team from Facebook works to serve classroom teachers

Mark Zuckerberg donates $20 million to improve school Internet access

Do custom-fit lessons help students succeed?

What happened with the $100 million that Newark schools got from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg? Not much

This story was written by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter to get a weekly update on blended learning.

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.