Learners are the heart of the mission for school reform. ‘Personalized’ learning has recently caught a major buzz. As a special education teacher/director, my focus was learners’ personal education plans. We knew through assessments, observations, interviews, etc., what made that young person tick….interests, skill levels, learning modes, passions, goals, loves and hates. Today, thankfully, we are looking at all students having a personal learning plan and pathway.
I’ve served on numerous task forces that tried to define personalization and envisioned systems that successfully engaged it. Until I connected with Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, the authentic definition/tactical vision escaped me. This is similar to the fact that there are education systems that say they are ‘1:1’ where the ‘real’ implementation eludes them. It strikes me how important it is to have a clear vision and understanding of outcomes. Otherwise we grapple in the dark, lay claim to best practices that are not, and further muddy the water for others trying to journey the right path.
Personalization is important because it prescribes how we engage the learner in the education process. Focus on the learner, not the adults, is a mainstay. There is much to unlearn to get to the goal. How do we get students’ voice into the learning process? How do we shift or share control, teacher and student when determining activities, strategies to achieve learner goals?
Our youth know how they best learn. When teachers ‘partner’ with their learners there is a greater chance they can help design the learning ecosystem and curriculum. The fact is that many learners do not, maybe cannot, give voice to these matters. Teachers can activate ways for students to get their ideas out to identify interests, unique talents and passions. Through this process, the learner’s personal profile will emerge. The Universal Design for Learning informs this practice (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines). One of the first ways to move toward the personalized approach is to get the learners’ personal plans defined. The teacher will have a snapshot of each learner, the learners as a whole, which will drive adaptive techniques, resources and strategies for getting each voice established as foundation.
Roles of teachers and learners change and they do so in stages if you follow Bray’s and McClaskey’s work (http://www.personalizelearning.com/). More a partnership than the teachers’ directedness begins to emerge, where teacher and student design and implement in tandem. Student choice is a major step. Choices about how to access content and engage in learning strategies help motivate learners. Students can also have choice in ‘how’ they demonstrate what they have learned. Will it be through a test? Essay? Product/artifact? Video? Presentation? Dramatic event? Etc.
The Council of Chief State School Officers Innovation Lab Network’s (ILN) six critical attributes for learner-centered systems provide a quality framework for the above work. They are:
- Fostering world-class knowledge and skills
- Learner agency
- Personalized learning
- Performance-based learning
- Anytime/anywhere opportunities
- Providing comprehensive systems of learner support.
One-to-one approaches capture the essence of number five. Real personalized schools provide for students’ ability to learn 24/7, anytime and anywhere. Important to note is that ‘well implemented’ one-to-one programs will move down the right path. Purchasing and deploying devices without adhering to proper protocols will result in failures across the board. Real focus on critical pathways, for learner and implementation, are necessary.
There is great opportunity today for students to have the kind of learning experiences that are self-directed and highly personal. Many significant aspects are in place and primed for next steps. I am excited to witness these possibilities become reality in 2015!
Chief Executive Officer