Personalized Learning Plans and Motivation

Do Personalized Learning Plans encourage self-motivation for middle level learners? This was the question that came to mind after watching a group of 8th grade students work on their PLP projects for an incredibly focused and productive class period.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Last year Team Summit piloted Personalized Learning Plans. Seeking to get a bit ahead of the curve, the team volunteered to experiment with the project under the guidance of Dr. James Nagle, education professor at St. Michael’s College, and using the Agency of Education’s Personalized Learning Plan resources. Across the academic year, students developed biographies, identified their principles and values, reflected on their relationships, and curated examples of academic and extracurricular achievements. Furthermore, students were given the opportunity to explore educational opportunities at the local, regional, and national level.

The PLP process was designed not with an end in sight, by rather as a continual process monitored by both the students and teachers. Because it was a pilot program, both teacher and students were free to experiment with formats, activities, and collaborative ideas. At the end of the academic year, students were given the opportunity to respond to their PLP experience.  77% of students indicated that they were “interested” or “very interested” in exploring growth, learning, and future opportunities. 90% of students answered “sometimes” or “yes” when asked if completing structured PLP activities helped them to think about their future.

Using these results, Team Summit committed to developing Phase 2 of the project.  In Phase 2, students would reflect on their PLP achievements from Phase 1, develop an action plan for Phase 2, and place themselves in the PLP process through an action plan.  Again, the idea was not to reach some pre-determined end point but to develop a sense of the process. More importantly, students were encouraged to self-evaluate progress and make autonomous decisions about their PLP development.

Flash forward to last week.

Wandering through the staff room, an educational article referencing Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, psychologists and long-time researchers on principles of motivation caught my eye. In particular, the author noted the importance of autonomy, connectedness, and competence. A quick search using Google Scholar produced a link to an article titled: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions by the aforementioned authors.

It was an interesting read and concluded with this, “We pointed out that in schools, the facilitation of more self-determined learning requires classroom conditions that allow satisfaction of these three basic human needs—that is that support the innate needs to feel connected, effective, and agentic as one is exposed to new ideas and exercises new skills.”¹

Perhaps then, the value of Personalized Learning Plans goes far beyond simply having students thinking deeply about their activities, their challenges, and their future. Based on observations of my own students, it seems that PLPs can be utilized for a wide range of important educational applications.

Perhaps PLPs can be utilized as a tool to engage students, increase motivation, and help to develop the strength-based educational environments that will provided all students with a foundation for the future. Only time, research, observation, and reflection will tell.


  1. Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions.” Contemporary educational psychology25.1 (2000): 54-67.

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