Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the water of personalized learning or your community is well on its way to embracing a completely new model of competency-based education, there are things you can do right now to begin offering your students a way to connect authentically with what they’re learning. Personalized learning empowers students to make their learning experiences more meaningful, and that’s valuable for everyone, no matter your curriculum.
Make space for students’ voice and choice. Does every student really have to take a test to prove they’ve mastered a subject, or could some students give a presentation, write a paper, or complete a project? This is one of the simplest and easiest changes to make, and it’s a great way to honor your students’ needs and talents while still giving them the opportunity to prove what they’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box or to let your students do the same. While I was at RSU2, there was one student who wanted to show how the training plans he was creating and following for the track team met the learning objectives for his PE class. While it was an unconventional approach, he was right, and the work he did to prove that what he was doing to meet the course’s goals has since opened the door for other student athletes to do the same: using the time they would’ve spent in PE pursuing other subjects or engaging in an external learning opportunity.
Be aware of student identity. One of the signals of change in KnowledgeWorks’ latest future forecast is the changing nature of identity. As we move away from fixed labels and predetermined notions of identity – Facebook and Google+, for example, now allow users to enter a “custom” gender identity – it’s important to check our own perceptions. What we perceive about students may not be the whole picture, and as we have access to more and better data about them, it’s important to use that data to personalize learning for the whole person and meet more than just academic needs.
Support your early adopters. You know the ones – the teachers who are truly passionate about trying something new, who want to teach differently. These are the teachers who want to capitalize on technology as a tool, not a replacement, to support the work they’re doing in the classroom. Give these educators the space they need to begin personalizing learning, and they’ll give back to you what you need to bring it to everybody else: an understanding of what it really takes to do the work; the resources they need (not just technology but professional development, too); and any barriers they may be encountering, (policy, administrative, or otherwise). What you learn from your early adopters will also help you communicate what you’re doing more effectively with everyone involved.
One of the signals of change in our latest future forecast looks at more families opting out of the traditional school system or otherwise seeking alternative approaches to learning that offer more student choice and a variety of ways to learn. We need to begin innovating and personalizing learning not only to keep up with changes in the broader education landscape, but also to ensure that we’re truly preparing students not for the world they’re living in when they enter the classroom at age 5, but the one they’ll graduate into at 18.