question educators all around the world asking: are we personalizing learning?

About a decade and a half ago when I first started teaching, one of my seasoned colleagues told me (or maybe warned?) that education works in cycles: whatever was old resurfaces about a decade later, only to be reconsidered.

When it comes to the newer buzzword “Personalized Learning”- I am wondering how true this might be…

Over the past few years, my grade-level colleagues and I embarked on this wildly exciting journey of defining personalized learning, more specifically within the area of mathematics. We have been pouring over literature, reading countless blog posts, following thought-leaders on Twitter, attending PD sessions,…, just to count a few actions we have taken. This afternoon, I had the most empowering urge to share some of the definitions we have encountered as a way to synthesize our thinking, and also to plant the seed in your thoughts, if you’re attempting to make a shift in your thinking about 21st century teaching and learning.

Almost every expert who has been cited, we are seeing Personalized Learning as a term that encompasses 4 (or more or less) main components:

  • Flexible Learning Environment
  • Personal Learning Paths
  • Competency-Based Progression (sometimes the word competency is replaced by “Mastery”)
  • Learner Profiles

Based on these components, the definitions vary, yet the idea that the definitions are working definition does not. Edweek has written about this back in 2014. And the fact that we’re still seeking some clarity, I think, is healthy. That means we’re thinking about it!

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) has crafted a definition that truly hones in on the student-centered approach, and in on the reality that we need to hustle to get on board with the changing learning environment. We’re teaching students of the future. Not of the past industrialized era.

NextGen Learning Challenges is getting down to the nitty-gritty when thinking of the definition, focusing on practical implications. Their definition almost screams at you with the emphasis on student-choice, a component of learning that the International Baccalaureate folks have integrated into their teaching and learning since the organization had been founded.

In today’s education landscape, it’s impossible not to see the giants of education research in the nonprofit area, such as the Gates Foundation. They have narrowed down the components to three categories:

“Personalized learning embodies three core characteristics, which help accelerate and deepen learning for all students:

  1. Student-teacher bond is the heart of learning
  2. Learning happens anywhere, anytime
  3. All students are ready for college and career”

Accelerate. Deepen. I bet many of you can remember the tip of the iceberg analogy for defining concept of culture. The concept of personalized learning almost begs for its own iceberg, where you can find true 21st century learning, somewhere in the sunken-Titanic depths of the iceberg.

Another giant in the field, Buck Institute has collected different models that emphasize student-centered learning and mesh with design thinking. I almost salivate over this blog post in the way they focus on the student. On choice. On flexible learning environment.

Clayton Christensen Institute is yet another “I’m not worthy” (a la Wayne’s World) think-tank, and they have been ahead of the curve. They’re the biggest proponents of:

  1. Empowering and not micro-managing
  2. Being a “good” coach
  3. Emphasizing accountability

Watch MIT Media Lab’s Cynthia Breazael’s talk about leveraging Artificial Intelligence in Education to raise the level of literacy to personalize learning for students. It’s amazing to follow this group’s journey and learn from them. Many applications directly into what we do. Every day.

Over and over again, in all these incredible think-tanks are leading us, the educators on the ground, to believe the future of our field is here. Today. Right now. So, what are we waiting for?

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