The Conditions Necessary to Move from a Traditional School District to a True Learning Community

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

With the right conditions all in place, you can transition from a traditional school district to a true learning community. We’ve known for a long time that personalized learning is an effective way to improve student outcomes. The key is to apply that knowledge not to just a single student, a school or even a an entire school district, but to develop a learning community. In a recent McKinsey & Company article, “How to scale personalized learning,” Greg Rawson, Jimmy Sarakatsannis and Doug Scott cite common themes across communities who are successfully scaling personalized learning. The best practices they cite align with the “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling Personalized Learning,” which was released by KnowledgeWorks in 2014.

What stood out for me in the McKinsey & Company article were the importance of vision, transparency and culture. Those are the three meta-themes that exist in the ten conditions laid out by KnowledgeWorks. All three need to be firmly in existence throughout all ten of the district conditions.


Without a strong vision for personalized learning, school districts will just do initiative after initiative. A strong vision for learning eliminates piecemeal management and empowers strong, systemic processes that align all decisions to deep levels of learning for all children. A shared vision will become the touchpoint around which all work within a learning community is planned.

See examples of personalized learning communities applying their vision in Portland, Maine, Lindsay, California, and Austin, Texas.


To truly make the systemic switch to personalized learning, we have to have a system-wide approach to innovation. When we talk about transparency at KnowledgeWorks, we’re making the case for being inclusive of everyone in the process. Change like this is not something that just the School Board or administration or superintendent does.

A successful transition to personalized learning is a system-wide approach that is codified by teachers, by administrators, by students and by community members. Everyone is included in the process and that ensures that everyone is committed to the vision together and designs the learning structures necessary to make personalized learning possible.

The idea of transparency extends to our students as well. When we’re crystal clear with students about what the expectations are for them, and they understand how they can leverage their interests, hobbies and what motivates them and apply those things to the expected learning outcomes … that’s when personalized learning starts happening.


When you’re operating under a shared vision, in partnership with people and organizations throughout the community, you are creating a culture of personalized learning.  This culture is critical for the successful transition to personalized learning, but doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens through the process of creating a shared vision and being transparent about the process, expectations, successes and lessons learned.

When you put those conditions all in place – built around those meta themes of vision, transparency and culture – that’s when a school district transitions from a traditional school district to a true learning community.

Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’

Learn more about districts across the country scaling personalized learning.

Download “District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide for Scaling personalized Learning” and find out the ten conditions necessary to successfully scale personalized learning.