kegley100910stg1821Are you Prepared for the coming Personalized Learning Revolution?

You know it’s coming; surely I’m not the only one hearing the phrase and observing the initiatives happening everywhere across the breadth of all school systems and types.   As just one example, consider the extraordinary attention (and venture capital investment) that’s been devoted to the Alt School model, including a recent feature in the New Yorker.

As your school’s Director of Technology, Website, SIS, Curriculum, Studies, or Communications, or as its Registrar you already, or soon will, have a role to play in supporting and advancing this movement for your students.   Here are five questions to ask yourself to lay the groundwork and prepare for a smooth(er) transition.

  1. Have you Defined Its Meaning to Your School?

The term personalized learning entails and implies a lot of different things, and it’s never too soon to take the lead in clarifying and establishing what it means for your school. One source you could consider examining is the Gates Foundation which has created what they call personalized learning’s four pillars:

  • learners’ strengths and weaknesses are profiled;
  • students are encouraged along a personal learning path;
  • students progress by acquiring competencies;
  • and school environments support the learning goals.

Another resource is the 2010 National Ed Tech Plan, which carefully compares and differentiates the terms personalization, differentiation, and individualization of learning, and defines personalization as a term effectively encompassing all three approaches, saying it is

Instruction paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and adapted to the specific interests of different learners.   In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.    

  1. How thoroughly do you know your students and their learning needs and preferences?

As it is explained in a Center for Digital Education report on Personalized Learning (Creating a Relevant Learning Culture for the Next Generation), “Teachers will be guiding learners to learn and use the skills they need to select the path for learning based on their interests, talents and aspirations, and to choose the appropriate tools to meet their learning goals.”

51b7PE7MbrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_To do so effectively, educators need more information than they have now about students’ strengths, needs, interests, and opportunities for growth.   A simple once-a-year standardized test of math and ELA isn’t going to provide enough information.   Schools will have to think about whether to do more formative and interim testing and benchmarking (as is provided by the NWEA MAP test), add in noncognitive skills and SEL assessments to ensure those areas area also being attended to, and do more interviews and surveys of students to help identify their passions and preferences for instructional modality.


All this information, which can be labeled a Personal Learning Profile (Bray and McClaskey, Make Learning Personal), will require a vehicle or platform for organization, storage, and ready access; another thing which technology directors are doubtless already thinking about and working on.

  1. How will grading and assessment need to change—and how will report cards and transcripts need to evolve to reflect these changes?

One of the most universally agreed upon implications of learning personalization is that traditional A-F grading and conventional Carnegie unit academic credits don’t fit. You can’t say to students they can learn anything, anytime, anyway they want and then say you’re going to grade and credit them in the same fashion you always have.

51sgKWxpNoL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_As Fred Bramante writes in Off the Clock: Moving Education from Time to Competency, “Rather than assume that the magic number of hours defined by the Carnegie unit yields true understanding, we should be identifying the learning competencies, benchmarking what mastery of those competencies looks like, and moving our students to mastery in a continuum that is not time dependent.”

Standards-Based Grading (SBG) is a valuable first (though not-at-all small) step toward competency-based learning and credits, one that every school should be considering. But SBG typically results in a still-conventional transcript, and what may be needed it to start anew with a intentionally designed product which reflects student mastery in a differentiated, meaningful, transparent, and original fashion. It is not too soon to begin thinking about what that might look like.

  1. How do you vet Digital Content?

Alhough personalized learning can exist without technology, in almost every 21st century school it will be implemented and accelerated with all the power and potential blended learning can provide.   Students will use digital resources, employ online texts, and create and collaborate upon a myriad of digital platforms. How will you assist them by curating and guiding them to what’s best, how effectively to separate the wheat from the chaff

This requires a vision, a philosophy, a plan and a wide set of actions—which need to be prepared for and effectively carried out over long periods of time.   Many find the Graphite site at Common Sense a valuable place to, as they explain, “ to check out our in-depth editorial reviews as well as teacher reviews written by educators like you, with detailed information and tips to help you decide what’s best for your classroom.”

The Center for Digital Education and Learning Counsel are two other sites offering evaluation and guidance to digital resources; the latter has recently published a useful guide entitled The 71 Characteristics of Digital Curriculum Special Report.

  1. How effectively are you cultivating strong community connections?

Personalized learning entails students where, with whom, and how they want to, not in every case but in many.   For them to do so, the school must re-situate itself as fully connected to their local community and as powerfully networked with other educators, experts, and sources who can give your students opportunities, information, and experiences.   These resources and connections aren’t generated overnight—they take years of cultivation.

It is essential to start now reaching out to, extending services to, and bringing into your campus other educational providers across the breadth of your region.   Shower them with positive attention on social media and support for their causes and initiatives; make your campus available to their needs; seek out partnership opportunities at every turn.   Increasing numbers of schools now have a full time director for community relations and partnerships—all for the sake of better establishing the means by which students can seek mentoring and internships, consult local experts, tackle regional issues, and pursue their passions.

There’s no longer any question whether “personalized learning” will come to your school—it’s already happening and increasingly accelerating in every educational environment.   To make the most of this exciting and expansive learning approach, start now laying the groundwork and preparing your school to excel.