A Quick Take on Personalized Learning

I had the opportunity to listen to Ken Montgomery, Executive Director of Design Tech High School describe the philosophy and inner workings of his school, including their approach to personalized learning. If you have not heard of personalized learning, it’s an intriguing, yet challenging approach to education in which students have some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning. Education Week published this good working definition of personalized learning a couple years ago. Inherent to any personalized learning program is some type of online component, with a full spectrum ranging from partial to fully online.

If you dig into personalized learning, evaluate some of the various definitions, and study the different models that can be found throughout the country, you’ll likely come away even more confused about personalized learning than when you started. I’ve certainly experienced this ambiguity first hand. This brings me back to something very profound that Ken Montgomery said during his talk which added clarity to what his school his trying to accomplish. To paraphrase: If you are hired to work at a company and are asked to complete three different tasks, would it be appropriate for you to say “I can do the first task no problem. I’m not very confident with the second one but I’ll give you something mediocre. I just don’t get the third one so I’ll have to pass on that one.” Of course not, yet that’s how traditional education treats students, allowing them to pass on to the next unit our course without necessarily demonstrating mastery. Personalized Learning is an attempt to reverse this trend.

This is definitely a tough nut to crack but I’ve seen lots of examples of students being required to demonstrate mastery (i.e. competency-based learning) in my own district. I’m not sure where personalized is going or exactly what it means for my own district but the tenants behind this idea are certainly worthy of some consideration. If you’d like to learn more about personalized learning, I suggest you check out the resources on this page at the Christensen Institute. The iNACOL site is another good site with lots of personalized learning resources.