Learners engage in experiences tailored to their learning needs, preferences for how to learn, and specific developmental levels.

Customization describes an overall learning experience, which is tailored to the readiness and preferences of individuals. Customization incorporates aspects of individualization and differentiation, which refer to instruction paced to the learning needs of different learners and instruction tailored to the learning preferences of different learners (Hattie, 2009; US Department of Education, 2010). Like these established approaches, customization aims to serve as an alternative to a “one-size-fits-all” model of teaching and learning, wherein learners receive standardized instruction and assessment in traditional classroom settings (Tomlinson, 2015; Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005; Yonezawa, 2012).

Customization encompasses the practices and strategies denoted by these terms but differs in its inclusion of a focus on approaches that vary responsively according to contexts and stakeholders, like competency-based progression and learner-driven instruction (Seel, 2012; Mohammed, 2016; Pane et al. 2015). Appropriately challenging learners is a primary theme in the research, which explicitly deals with customizing in order to reach and push learners at varying developmental levels, an idea with roots in Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). Responsivity to individual level of development relates to the underlying theories of differentiation and mixed-ability teaching by making adjustments that cater to learners’ needs but goes further to utilize individualized learning trajectories to engage the upper limits of learners’ abilities and grow their agency, ultimately leading to the fulfillment of competencies (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004; Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Deci & Moller, 2005; Lawrence-Brown, 2004; The Learning Accelerator, 2015; Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005; Santamaria, 2009; Valiandes et al., 2011).

There is also significant evidence that having learners drive their own learning (e.g., setting goals, creating and managing plans, reflecting on progress, etc.) facilitates learner engagement, motivation, and agency as well as promotes a path to cognitively demanding experiences (Mohammed, 2016; The Learning Accelerator, 2015; Pane et al., 2015; Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005).

In more recent research, structures that enable diverse demonstrations of mastery are noted as effective means of customizing the learning experience (Hall, 2002; Hattie, 2009; Pane et al., 2015; Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012; Yonezawa, 2012). Additionally, there is strong support for customization according to modes of learning or how learners access, grapple with, and demonstrate learning (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2004; Tomlinson, 2014).

Customization Look Fors


Learners engage with appropriately challenging activities that meet them at their developmental level, stretching them just beyond their comfort zone.


Learners deliberately self assess, set ambitious goals, create plans to achieve those goals, and progress along their learning pathway in ways that allow them to be appropriately challenged and meet their objectives.


Learners engage in learning activities tailored to their unique profile of defined learning needs and preferences.


Learners demonstrate their evolving knowledge, skills, and habits through a variety of modes and at various points in the learning process.

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This guide was created by Lindsay Unified School District and The Learning Accelerator, building on the work produced through a previous partnership between Lindsay Unified School District, Summit Public Schools, and Transcend. Learn more about the partnership.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.