The 4 X 4 of Personalized Learning — Part 2

A few weeks ago I blogged about the things that get me so excited about the potential of personalized learning and shared with you four promises of personalized learning:

  • More efficient and effective learning
  • More time for teachers to focus on each student
  • More student-centered and engaging
  • More prepared for college, career and citizenship

And I thought the next thing I would share with you is four potential approaches to doing it. But before I get to the approaches, I instead want to share four facts. Because without the facts the approaches seem far less important.

Fact 1:You do not need technology to personalize learning in general, but you do need technology to personalize learning at scale: According to Adam Newman, founding partner of Education Growth Advisors (EGA), “technology isn’t actually required for personalization, but the tech makes it possible to personalize at scale.” In Education Elements CEO Anthony Kim’s book, The Personalized Learning Playbook he says “The components of customized education have always existed, but never before have we had the capability to extend that personalized approach to all students of all abilities. The accessibility and effectiveness of technology is at a “tipping point” where it can deliver on its promise while creating more room for creativity and connection than ever before. “

Fact 2: Personalized learning redefines the teacher’s role but does not replace teachers: The transition from a classic educational model to personalized learning isn’t an easy shift for teachers. It’s a huge departure from the familiar classroom setting to a physically and intrinsically different classroom, with drastic changes on their roles and responsibilities, and, most of all, with technology having a much more significant presence. But technology is not being introduced to replace teachers, as many might assume. In fact, while technology is a great way to offer more to students (e.g. through adaptive content), it still has its limitations. No matter how “smart” a product or computer program is, it can’t compare to the knowledge and life experience that a teacher brings into the classroom. Computers can’t create relationships with students. Programs can’t connect learning to their lives the way a teacher who knows her students can. Technology provides teachers with scaffolded creative freedom in their classrooms. Knowing that all these changes are not easy for the teachers, and sometimes are overwhelming, it is important to provide assurances, a vision, a roadmap and appropriate pd and support to take teachers through this shift, as well as a constant reminder that “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” — Bill Gates.

Fact 3: Strong leadership is critical for a strong personalized learning environment: One of the hardest things about the shift to personalized learning is getting buy-in and alignment. The educational field has multiple stakeholders and a collective governance,where your decision makers are far from your users and where everything is regulated by both state and federal policies. All of this complicates both decision-making and change management. Superintendents who take the initiative to innovate and improve the experience for each of their students every day are very courageous and inspiring individuals who have the amazing capacity to rally communities behind this undoubtedly worthy cause. Good at demonstrating commitment, they plan for the end-to-end experience, think about sustainability and change process from an institution-wide level. They invest in motivating, training, developing and supporting them with their new practices. “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” — Henry A. Kissinger.

Fact 4: There is no single right way to personalize learning: Personalized learning is a concept open for improvement. Just because a model or a method worked in one district does not mean that replicating it in other districts will work. And as districts develop their own approaches to personalized learning, as teachers try this in their classrooms, we have to remember that failure is a possibility that we need to be comfortable with as it’s perfectly “safe to try”. It is impossible to be guaranteed an outcome prior to embarking on the journey, and personalized learning is not an exception. This is a real case for the PDSA cycle — Plan, Do, Study, Act — and for constant iteration. Try, learn and share what you learned. Make adjustments, try new things and put them into practice… and keep always in mind that “Excellence is not a destination; it is a continuous journey that never ends.” — Brian Tracy.

Helping people to understand what personalized learning can do (the promises) and clear up misconceptions about what it is and isn’t (the facts) are both important steps in moving from classrooms where we teach all students at once to classrooms where we meet the needs of each student every day. Now that you are hopefully more excited about personalized learning, we can talk more about approaches to do it next time.

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The Personlized Learning Playbook is now online. Check it out!

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