How do we foster self-paced learning without also introducing complacency? By Jeff Gerlach.

I have been following Celeste Kirsh’s implementation of a personalized learning framework that she is using with her students entitled; The Mind-Blowing Matrix of Connections. The design of the project is impressive and is definitely worth checking out.

Specifically I wanted to discuss a subsequent post of hers in which she discussed the cost of personalization. In this post, she shared some really good observations about personalized learning in regards to student pace. Take a look at some of her quotes below:

“When students had the chance to work at their own pace, this actually translated to students working slower than I had hoped for.
I was rudely awakened to the fact that ‘at your own pace’ might mean that students’ timelines and my own timeline are not necessarily in sync. I had designed the experience around students perhaps working more quickly (and thus the advanced and optional stages), but why would a student challenge themselves towards the ‘advanced and optional’ stages if they had the chance to work slower and do less?”

I’ve got to believe that this is a common theme for teachers seeking to offer customized pacing; especially in the initial stages of shifting away from one-size-fits-all instruction. From the student perspective, there is a tendency to relax a bit. This will no doubt slow student progression, but keep in mind… this is personalization and it is what we are shooting for. Emphasis will need to be placed on teaching efficiency, keeping in mind that it will look different for every student.

The transition is really difficult for the teacher as well. It is almost ingrained within a teacher to move students along at a rigid pace. We are all consumed with fitting in all of the content before June. So the first step that I encourage teachers to take, is to avoid the “I’m not doing anything” feeling that comes with the facilitation role. It can be quite unusual for the teacher, who is used to teaching 30+ students simultaneously for 90% of a class period. You are doing so much “teaching” by answering questions, checking in on student progress, and helping to establish individualized learning targets for your students. Feel accomplished in providing this customized experience for your students.

I would be remiss to not talk about the limits to self pacing. In fact maybe we should think of it as negotiated-pacing. We can take measures to motivate students to complete tasks on a flexible timeline. Incentify students to be part of an authentic learning goal. Conference individually with students often to check in on their progress. Artificial incentives (grades, candy, and trophies) do not integrate well as learning goals, hold students accountable by explicitly establishing learning targets that you want to reach together. In the end, you can motivate students to work efficiently by being an equal partner in their learning. You will experience great accountability from your students in their work if they feel you have a vested interest in the process.

I want to thank Celeste for her wonderful insights that sparked my own thinking. I would love to continue the discussion — how are you engaging students in self-paced instruction without encouraging them to become complacent?

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is a blended learning coach at Michigan Virtual University. Originally published on February 11, 2014 at myblend.org.

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