Let's Get Personal!

“Personalized learning” is in vogue right now, but unfortunately, educational publishing companies have commandeered this term and made it about individualizing the delivery of instruction for a student using algorithms and the flexibility of technology. And that misses the mark.

“Personal learning” has emerged as the term to distinguish learning that is truly owned by the learner from differentiated, individualized, or personalized learning. A key distinction is that in personal learning, the focus is on the learning. Historically, we have referred to differentiated instruction and individualized instruction, where the focus is on the instructional practice employed. Personalized learning, given how this term has been hijacked, is more accurately termed personalized instruction. In all three instances, the student is still the recipient of some program imposed by a teacher or computer program.

Personal learning recognizes and respects learner agency. When fully empowered, the learner decides what to learn, when to learn it, and how to learn it. Indeed, it is how we learn what we choose to learn. Suppose, for instance, that you want to learn about meteorology. You may choose to explore this topic on the internet, read books, take a class, attend lectures, engage with an expert or mentor, or even do your own scientific studies. You choose what specific topics you want to explore and to what depth. You may be intensely engaged in your learning at times and there may be periods of time when you invest very little effort into your learning. This is personal learning.

All well and good you say, but we still have learning expectations for students. Yes, we do. And, those are important references for learners as they design their learning paths and plans. Content standards, though, are only one important reference for learners. Career credentials may also define external expectations. Performance standards may define expectations for others. The point is that what a learner chooses to learn and prioritize in the process is more a result of their aspirations, passions, and personal goals than a one-size-fits-all list of requirements. Do all graduates really need to know how to “express a logarithm as the solution to the exponential equations ab^ct=d where, a, c, and d are numbers and the base b is 2, 10, or e; evaluate the logarithm using technology.” (SC Pre-calculus math standard PC.FLQE.4) or even SC Geometry standard G.GSRT.1: “Understand a dilation takes a line not passing through the center of the dilation to a parallel line, and leaves a line passing through the center unchanged. Verify experimentally the properties of dilations given by a center and a scale factor. Understand the dilation of a line segment is longer or shorter in the ration given by the scale factor”?

Learning can happen anywhere, at anytime. It doesn't require sitting in a classroom.

As schools and districts seek to better support personal learning, there are some elements to consider:

*Class schedules and seat time need to be replaced with time management and demonstration of mastery. In a world where we need to ensure that the children entrusted to our care are safe, we do need to know where they are. Additionally, we want to be sure to monitor their learning progress so that we can support, encourage and coach them. There are many software solutions available today that enable this. As for mastery, I’ll tackle that in another blog.

*Learners need to develop learning plans that take into account their goals, passions, and current achievement levels, as well as learning styles, resources, and opportunities. As noted above, these plans also need to consider external requirements associated with their learning goals.

*It is the learning that must be validated. A competency-based, mastery-driven system to verify the accomplishments of each learner needs to be in place. Learning that happens within the system and outside of the system needs to be validated. A number of micro-credential and badge systems are available today to support this approach.

*Teachers will still teach, but not to a captive audience. Instead, they need to offer lectures and experiences informed by learners’ plans. Further, they need to function more as coaches, resources, and consultants, in response to each learner.

*Policies, resource allocation, structures are among the many other elements that need to change in a true personal learning environment.

Admittedly, this vision represents a significant change from the current model of school. The change management process can occur, though, through very intentional and well managed stages. Systems, like individuals, go through predictable developmental phases. We’ve attempted to capture this process in the maturity model. We believe strongly that the whole system needs to maintain alignment throughout the evolution of becoming a personal learning system. We welcome your feedback and constructive thoughts on this model.

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