Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Systems Improvement Science

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Daniella Hall Sutherland

Committee Member

Dr. Noelle A. Paufler

Committee Member

Dr. Hans Klar

Committee Member

Dr. Shanita Anderson


This exploratory case study revealed how rural educators navigate the shift required to implement personalized learning. I collected qualitative data at HMK8, where a personalized learning framework was implemented. This study used improvement science theory to understand the experience of rural teachers’ implementing personalized learning by exploring the experiences of rural educators applying personalized learning practices in the classroom and reviewing how rural educators explain their support needs. About 40% of schools in South Carolina are rural, so this study focused on rural teachers’ needs. The data analysis is rooted in sensemaking theory, which I use to explain and understand rural teacher experiences with personalized learning implementation, and how to support them as they do so. Additionally, data analysis is rooted in improvement science theory, where I use a root cause analysis (RCA) as the foundation for this type of system improvement.

I asked two research questions: What were the experiences of rural teachers’ implementing personalized learning? And how can an educational system support rural teachers’ implementing personalized learning? Using survey data, focus groups, and document review, I found rural teachers understood the purpose and benefits of personalized learning, but were not implementing the South Carolina Framework for Personalized Learning. Second, I found rural teachers had difficulty implementing personalized learning with fidelity due to a lack of funding, training, support, time, resources, and having competing demands. Third, I found that the role of principal turnover and district leadership influence contributed to teachers’ experiences.

Using improvement science theory, I created a hierarchal diagram to explain the forces that influenced teacher implementation of personalized learning. This diagram can be used as an analytic planning tool for improvement science cycles that address program implementation. I also identified multiple recommendations for practice, policy, and research, including expanding access to training and funding for implementation, and using a systems approach for implementation. A systems approach would help to give teachers adequate time and resources for personalized learning implementation. My research contributes to the understanding of rural teachers’ experiences implementing personalized learning, rural policy implementation, and systems of education.



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