KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team was honored to be voted a finalist in The Mind Trust’s inaugural School Design Competition.

New Approaches to Personalized Learning Raise New Questions

KnowledgeWorks’ strategic foresight team was honored to be voted a finalist in The Mind Trust’s inaugural School Design Competition. We pitched an idea for a new school design, Ubique Academy, that would draw upon trends we’ve been tracking to create meaningful passion-based learning beyond the walls of a traditional school building.

While the school would have hubs and would also make use of digital resources when appropriate, its customized learning pathways would also take learners across Indianapolis. As appropriate to an individual’s needs, interests, and goals, those learning journeys would knit together the city’s resources – such as cultural institutions, businesses, local experts, and community leaders – to support deep engagement in place and community. Learning pathway designers would help students craft and refine their learning journeys, and other kinds of staff informed by our exploration of future educator roles would also provide support.

The prospect of opening a school that is everywhere, for everyone elicited excitement. It also raised questions about the feasibility of such a different approach.  The judges asked about:

  • Operations, including the financial feasibility of providing such personalized attention and how to keep infrastructure lightweight while honing the instructional approach
  • Learner agency, given that not all kids feel motivated and that navigating customized learning pathways would require significant self-direction (though it would also offer support)
  • Equity, specifically providing support for students with special needs and in challenging circumstances
  • Rigor, centering around whether such interest-based and integrated learning would be sufficiently standards-based
  • Learner accountability, namely knowing that kids were actually pursuing their learning pathways when out in the park or another community location
  • Understanding, or the need to help people envision this new approach to school by building bridges of understanding by making connections with current developments.

These constructive questions could be answered with further development of the Ubique Academy concept. They also highlight how difficult it can be to conceptualize deeply personalized approaches to school. I’m encouraged that there are existing efforts to foster community-wide learning ecosystems, whether through Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network, Columbus’ Surge, or Chattanooga’s Hive. In addition, there are national efforts to broaden where and how learning happens, among them STEM Learning Ecosystems, the Center for the Future of Museums’ vibrant learning effort, and the National Park Service’s recent Learning from the Outside In summit.

I also find it promising that many of the innovative school designs featured at The Mind Trust’s school design competition sought to advance personalized learning, with focus on process over content. For example, in aiming to help future leaders solve the world’s toughest problems, Hack School uses a split staffing model to involve people from industry, who are paid partly by the school and partly by their companies, alongside teachers. In another example, Fontan School from Learning One to One helps students find meaning in their education through personalized learning plans and a staged approach to learner agency.

As we explore new approaches to personalized learning and raise and answer new questions, these and other signals of change can point the way to new possibilities and inspire innovation across the learning spectrum.

Katherine Prince

Written by: Katherine Prince

Katherine Prince is the Senior Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. She is excited about the future of learning, transformative leadership, and building resilient solutions for a sustainable world.

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