The Learning Independence Continuum: The Path from Educator-Driven to Learner-Driven

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Guest post by James Murray, the Principal of Waukesha STEM Academy in Waukesha, Wisconsin

Learning environments exist on a Learning Independence Continuum, according to James Rickbaugh, PhD, former Director of the Institute for Personalized Learning.

Learning environments exist on a Learning Independence Continuum, according to James Rickbaugh, PhD, former Director of the Institute for Personalized Learning.
Learning Independence Continuum, James Rickabaugh, PhD, Institute for Personalized Learning

Educational leaders are able to refer to and develop their progression into personalized learning by monitoring progress on this continuum. When students have begun to take ownership of their learning and grow their independence as not only a student, but as a citizen, we have achieved a true learner-driven environment.

As students become increasingly more ready for the real world that awaits them beyond the four walls of a classroom, they begin to take more control of their learning and lead their own journey.  This is one of our main goals for students by the time they leave the Waukesha STEM Academy.

In his white paper, “Learning Independence Continuum,” Dr. Rickabaugh describes the importance of the transition from an educator-driven to learner-driven learning environment. There are many steps and stages that students and school-systems embrace and explore as they move along the continuum. Students don’t necessarily travel to the end of the continuum and consider themselves “having arrived.” There is no “right place” to be on the continuum, because each individual student is unique and carries a different readiness-level, as well as being driven by flexible intrinsic and extrinsic-motivation that propels them forward.

Creating a Learner-Driven Environment at Waukesha STEM Academy

In our seventh year of operation at Waukesha STEM Academy, we’re still looking for ways to be more on the learner-driven end of the continuum.

  • Acknowledge Best Practices and Build on Them: A common misconception about traditional education and the “legacy model,” is that it’s old, outdated and irrelevant. This is far from true. Best practices in teaching are best practices because they work. They can and should still be incorporated into today’s innovative educational settings.At Waukesha STEM Academy, we try to use and improve upon these practices but also allow for a gradual release of responsibility by the teacher, school staff and administration. In the process, our students expect more ownership of their own learning, along with voice and choice, as they begin to develop their own best practices for learning.

  • Give Students the Tools and Supports to Be Self-Reliant: In the learner-driven environment at Waukesha STEM Academy, students have begun to find the tools necessary to be self-reliant, instead of always looking to their teacher. Through this, they have become their own best advocates in acquiring knowledge. No longer do students wait to be spoon-fed information.  They are hungry and craving knowledge, but beyond that, they need to know how to apply what they are learning in context.  Our goal is to not just build masters of content, but to build experts in context. With inquiry-based learning, project and problem-based learning, as well as adaptive online platforms, teachers have begun to incorporate much more efficient platforms to provide students with multiple modalities of learning similar skills, while providing rapid feedback cycles. With the presence of tools to aide in proficiency-building, teachers may now act more in the capacity of coaches for mastery and application, to help students learn while doing… not just learning and then doing.
  • Give Teachers the Space to Adapt Instruction and Support as Necessary to Personalize Learning: The gradual release of responsibility by educators at all grade-levels has afforded teachers the ability to let those students who are a bit more independent and have grown along the Learning Independence Continuum, move more at their own pace. We have really worked to avoid looking at students with a “born-on-date,” but rather, acknowledging that students come to use at different places and move at different paces, regardless of their age.  At the same time, educators have the ability to hone in on and support those students who need more one-on-one guidance and direct instruction, while allowing those who are a bit more independent to soar.

Share how your applying Dr. Rickabaugh’s Learning Independence Continuum with me on Twitter at @edUcation_frwd or comment on Facebook.

Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’ In our research for ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers©,” we interviewed teachers, instructional coaches and principals from across the country who lead personalized learning implementation in their communities across the country. Read our findings.