Personalized Learning and Discovery

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Lindsey Bowen, a KnowledgeWorks intern, shares her own story with personalized learning. "To me, personalized learning means discovery." By Lindsey Bowen, an intern with the talent management team at KnowledgeWorks. Lindsey is a student at Xavier University pursuing her Master of Arts Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a common question we all got asked as children. I never had an answer. I didn’t want to be a firefighter, or a teacher, or a doctor, but those were the only three careers I knew of when I was a kid. Fortunately, personalized learning allowed me to use my education to discover my interests and explore different future career options.

I was homeschooled starting in the first grade which allowed me to learn at my own pace, visit historical sites in person, perform extensive research on topics of my choosing and participate in many sports and theater performances. I continued with homeschooling until high school. At that point, I chose to enroll in an online high school and had advanced far enough in my course work that I was able to start as a sophomore instead of a freshman. Earning my high school diploma this way gave me a lot of flexibility and taught me applicable time-management skills. Knowing I had to get all of my work done by June each year if I wanted to have a summer vacation was a strong incentive. I had no choice but to become very self-regulated in managing my school and extracurricular activities. It took some trial and error, but I became very responsible and accountable for my own learning.

My nontraditional education gave me the chance to explore and discover my interests and learn more about myself. Through my personalized coursework I was able to identify what I was passionate about. I was drawn toward the social sciences as an early teen. I sought out psychology literature to read “for fun,” and at 14 years old, I seriously considered how I could translate my scholastic interest into a career. I took it upon myself to perform extensive internet and library research on what a career in psychology might look like. Shortly after, I chose psychology as my intended major on college applications. I moved away to college at 16 years old, and received my bachelor’s degree in psychology four years later.

Personalized learning provided me the opportunity to explore my strengths, uncover my passions, and cultivate my interests in a way that could translate into a career. My education opened the door to all that I could be good at, and then allowed me the personalization in my studies to hone in on what I really loved. While my college friends changed their major three or more times, I was confident that the field I chose as an early teen was right for me. It also made me independent and reliant only on myself when it came to learning. The transition to college was easier for me than it was for my friends who experienced a more traditional education. For them, college was too unstructured, they had too much freedom and lacked the time-management skills necessary. For me, I was doing exactly what I had done my whole life, which was taking responsibility for doing work independently, and pursuing continual learning and discovery. The only thing that changed for me was that I had to go to class at specific times (and not in my pajamas). I graduated college with a 4.0 GPA, and I am now nine months away from completing my graduate degree in industrial/organizational psychology.

Personalized learning allows children to learn at their own pace in an individualized environment. They can learn instead of being taught at. I had a well-rounded education, and completed all state requirements, but instead of using 50 minutes equally in every class, I could spend 30 minutes doing X and Y, then dedicate the rest of my time to what I really cared about. For me, personalized learning meant I got exposed to a wide variety of subjects and choose what I wanted to dedicate my time and energies more intensely into. Not only did I develop the self-regulatory skills that allowed me to succeed in college and my career, but I effectively avoided calculus like the plague.

The way that personalized learning came together in my life was unique, and I am very grateful that my family could sacrifice their time and finances to provide the tools I needed to be successful. Through personalized learning, I had the freedom to discover, and I learned how to learn. Personalized learning taught me that learning is a lifelong process, however structured or unstructured that learning may be. In 2017, educators and policymakers have the opportunity to make personalized learning accessible on a broad scale: a transformation that was not possible 20 years ago. The value that personalized learning brings to education is that it provides the foundation for students to take control of their futures by discovering their passions and acquiring transferable skills that will help them become competent, malleable, and passionate workers who are ready to confidently enter their careers.

To me, personalized learning means discovery, and I now know what I want to be when I grow up.