The idea that school should focus on the learners might seem like a
no-brainer. After all, helping people learn is the whole point of education,
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. The U.S. education system was
based on – and most teachers and administrators have been trained for – an industrial
age model of teaching and learning designed more for efficiency than
efficacy. But it’s our system, and we’re used to it. Plus, change is hard. Even
within a single school district, there are hundreds of people to get on board
for every transition, from curriculum changes to tech
integration. A paradigm shift as monumental as abandoning tried-and-true
teacher-centered schooling in favor of student-centered, personalized learning
is bound to be a hard sell in an environment that’s perpetually short on funding
and pressed for time.
"What holds schools and districts back is the time it takes to make change
happen,” explain Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, co-founders of Personalize Learning, LLC. “It
takes a shared vision, commitment by all stakeholders, a supportive human
infrastructure that is self-sustainable and years to transform a system that is
embedded in traditional teaching methods.”
This sounds like a tall order, and it is. Like all great transformations,
however, it will happen when the pain of staying the same surpasses the pain of
making a change. Has that time finally arrived?
Consider these facts: Those calling for education reform point out that the
sage-on-the-stage model no longer makes sense in a world where knowledge is
democratized and everyone
can be a sage. What’s more, recent brain research has shown that learning
depends on engagement, and what engages each student varies widely according
to interests, personality, learning style and many other factors.
Scientists have also proven that when students
direct their own learning, they are more invested, have fewer behavior
problems and retain more. And personalized learning and its many related
approaches – including student-centered
learning environments, differentiated
instruction, and passion-based,
project-based and inquiry-based pedagogies – are getting
results in populations that traditional educational approaches have failed.
This, all while U.S. test scores
and graduation rates have fallen steadily under the old regime.
All this may not make change easier, but it does make the need for it clear.
The good news is that technology – from mobile apps and
devices to real-time student data
and open educational resources – has
finally become advanced enough and affordable enough to bring the key elements
of personalized learning within every educator’s reach. The details are doable,
and districts are finally doing it.
Want to join them? Here are five tips to help you make the leap:
1. Learn more about the personalized learning revolution.
Although the basic concept of tailoring instruction to each learner may seem
easy to grasp, there are a lot of moving pieces, from learning styles and pace
to environment and technology choices, to consider. For a basic primer on the
recent history of the personalized learning movement and words of wisdom from
the experts, read “Learning
personalized: Putting the student-centric approach in focus” in the first issue ofentrsekt, ISTE’s new
2. Get inspired by others’ success.
If making such a big shift seems intimidating, take heart and find
inspiration in the many schools and districts around the nation that are already
embracing personalized and competency-based learning. Check out several
state-based initiatives and success stories on the U.S.
Department of Education site.
3. Use the standards as your guide.
Personalized learning is more than just a good idea – in many states, it will
soon be required. To successfully meet the Common Core State Standards, educators
student-centered learning. And to meet the ISTE
Standards for Teachers and Administrators,
they must empower students
to make their own choices in how they learn, what they learn and how they
express their learning.
4. Take baby steps.
Don’t feel like you have to jump into all facets of personalized learning all
at once. In fact, it is often easier for both educators and students to
integrate their new roles if they take it a little at a time. “It takes a
process to transform learning environments and change learner and teacher
roles,” Bray and McClaskey say. “This process does not happen overnight.” Read
your learning environment” to find out how they recommend getting through
the first stage of the transition.
5. Make a plan.
Once you have a firm understanding of the pedagogy and practice underlying
personalized learning, you’re ready to plot a course to make your vision a
reality. You’ll find a step-by-step guide for planning a schoolwide personalized
learning initiative in Personalized
Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. ISTE members can download a
digital version of the book for free.