Despite an assiduous search, it has been impossible to find a review paper bringing together empirical evidence from multiple studies in relation to the effectiveness of personalised learning in higher education. In the higher education context there are reviews of ICTs, more generally of mobile learning, of online discussion boards and a variety of other individual technologies, but in relation to personalised learning, while there are many papers advocating it and reporting experiences in particular contexts, there are few measuring effectiveness, and there are no synthesising reviews.
Pemberton (2013) conducted a study comparing “normal” (i.e. neither differentiated nor personalised) learning with (a) differentiated and (b) personalised learning in higher education in the context of a large first year seminar class in information literacy skills. She saw personalisation as a means towards the ends of motivating and retaining students. She found no significant differences between the control group and the experimental group (differentiated and personalised, respectively) on either development of skills (posttest minus pretest) or on student confidence. Motivation was not directly measured in the study, and groups were not large enough nor the study long enough to measure the effect on student retention. Like many experimental studies of computer-based teaching and learning, the finding was “no worse” than “normal” teaching, rather than “better”. On the Hippocratic principle of “first do no harm”, and on the assumption that there are upsides other than those in relation to achievement, the use of personalised learning can be justified; however, extravagant claims about its superiority over other approaches seem not to be supported by evidence.
Venkatesh et al. (2014) surveyed 14,283 Canadian students in relation to the perceived effectiveness of ICTs in learning in general, rather than personalised learning specifically. The study included subscales for the ways in which ICTs supported group work and social interaction around study on the part of students. They found that “When used properly, ICT integration shows positive effects on motivation, student interest and instigates complex cognitive processes” (p. 117).
Waldrip et al. (2014) surveyed 2407 Australian secondary students in relation to personalised learning, but like the Venkatesh et al. (2014) study this was only a study of students’ perceptions, not the effectiveness for learning of personalised approaches.