Personalized Learning: Whose School Is It Anyway?

The current educational paradigm is built on building stocks of knowledge, transferring those stocks to individuals, then certifying that the knowledge has been successfully transferred. Society has, however, moved on. The focus is now on behaviours, as skills and knowledge can be obtained on demand as required. The next generation is increasingly defining itself in terms of their social graph — their interests, activities and relationships with other individuals.
 Evans-Greenwood, O’Leary & Williams

In our globally connected world today, a proliferating, dynamic network of personal interests, passions, and knowledge is transforming how we live and learn. Shift has happened. Good schools are adjusting. Where the adjustment is slower than the pace of change, another shift is happening: students are learning in digital communities despite schools. The result is personalized learning. If it’s not taking place in schools, it’s happening outside them. This separation makes no sense. The gap needs to be closed if schools are to remain relevant.

The 2010 Symposium on [Re]Design for Personalized Learning identified the following three key conditions and findings:

  • Today’s … educational model — based on fixed time, place, curriculum and pace — is insufficient in today’s society and knowledge-based economy.
  • We must ensure that a student’s educational path, curriculum, instruction, and schedule be personalized to meet the unique needs of students, inside and outside of school.
  • Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies. Personalization cannot take place at scale without technology.

I am fortunate to work in a school where the commitment to making learning personal is not new, where teachers are enthusiastic about embracing the new paradigm. For our purposes as a school, as we explore this direction, we hope Personalized Learning will provide:

  • Exposure to a flexible range of learning opportunities that will help students prepare for their futures.
  • Opportunities and scheduled time for students to locate and pursue their personal learning passions.
  • Teachers working in advisory and mentorship roles, learning alongside students.
  • A digital platform for students to monitor and publish their personal learning goals and development, leading to an intentional, transferable digital presence.

It is our hope that the introduction of a daily Personal Learning block will help facilitate this direction and that it will evolve naturally throughout the curriculum over time. As we explore this new learning together, we are obligated to keep the five tenets of personalized learning, as outlined by Pernille Ripp, clearly in mind:

  1. Student Voice
  2. Student Choice
  3. Student Planning
  4. Student Reflection
  5. Student Action

For our context, working with adolescents, we need a nuanced approach. It is not enough to simply tell young people to locate their personal passions without providing the framework, context, tools and support in order that they may do so. We are therefore creating a menu of modular learning opportunities around creativity, design, wellness, expression, innovation, and digital publishing — the tools to facilitate the more personal and independent learning experience over time.

For now, our next and most crucial step is abundantly clear: it is time to ask the students.

The Paradigm Shift: Redefining Education — Evans-Greenwood, O’Leary & Williams
 The Five Tenets of Personalized Learning — Pernille Ripp

Originally published at on January 24, 2016. If you liked what you read, be sure to follow Mike Crowley for more on Personalized Learning, and The Synapse for more authentic voices in Education!