New Study Reiterates Importance of Culture, Transparency and Vision to Personalized Learning

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Guest post by Judy Peppler, former president and CEO of KnowledgeWorks

RAND study examining personalized learning include recommendations that align with what KnowledgeWorks is doing alongside policymakers & school districts. How do we make sure that the education we’re providing today’s students equips them with the skills they will need for the world of work and life of tomorrow? Competency-based, personalized learning.

KnowledgeWorks has invested in this approach to education because it’s what works for students. A new research study from RAND Corporation has explored the efficacy of personalized learning and we’re excited about the findings.

“Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects” is a study sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to look at US schools implementing personalized learning and to evaluate:

  • What does personalized learning look like in various schools?
  • How does the approach to personalized learning compare and contrast to a more traditional education?
  • What are the obstacles to personalized learning?
  • What factors hinder the implementation of personalized learning?
  • What is the efficacy of personalized learning on student growth?

While the sample of schools evaluated in “Informing Progress” were all in the Next Generation Learning Challenges Breakthrough School Models program, the resulting data holds lessons that are applicable to all leaders in personalized learning.

Among the recommendations that came out of “Informing Progress” are several that align with the work KnowledgeWorks is doing alongside policymakers and school districts nationwide.

Align education policy and personalized learning

In 2015 we created a policy framework to help guides states and districts in working together to create flexibility to support scaling personalized learning. In this framework, we stress the importance for states to provide districts with the policy flexibility to scale personalized learning environments. The areas of flexibility we outline include many of those stressed in “Informing Progress” such flexible policies related to:

  • Course progressions
  • Assessment
  • Student supports
  • Learning environments
  • Partnerships

A practical guide for scaling personalizing learning across a district

The authors of “Informing Progress” note that early positive indicators about the success of personalized learning have increased enthusiasm about scaling it district-wide. They make data-based recommendations to district and school leaders about effectively implementing personalized learning. These reflect lessons that we have gleaned from our own partnerships in implementing the model and incorporated into our guide for school districts looking to scale personalized learning:

  • Leaders must provide clear expectations and parameters for their staff and then give them the space and trust necessary to implement what is best for their students
  • Districts should offer job-embedded professional development programs that align with the district’s vision for teaching and learning and to student needs
  • Districts need comprehensive data systems consisting of learning management, assessment and student information systems so that teachers can provide the necessary supports for students

Build a culture that is supportive of teachers, continuous improvement and doing what is right for students

Through our work with districts leading the way in personalized learning across the country, we’ve learned that there are a few critical areas districts need to focus on to overcome barriers to district-wide change:  vision alignment, community culture and transparent communications practices. When the authors of “Informing Progress” recommend that districts “provide teachers with time and resources to collaborate on developing curriculum and on reviewing and scoring student work,” they are getting to that supportive culture.

Supporting teachers to find out what is best for their students, in partnership with their students, not only helps students own their own learning, but also empowers teachers. In Marysville, Ohio, teachers like Erin Morrison are partnering with students to build standard operating procedures for the classroom and creating unique opportunities for student voice.

The RSU2 school district in Maine has implemented personalized learning district-wide. Their superintendent, Bill Zima, stresses how important it is for a district to have a culture and understanding of continuous improvement, and “that teachers have the opportunity to practice and explore and try things and not worry about failing, so to speak.” That culture has provided the foundation of the district’s success.

Learn more about personalized learning at the policy, district and school level

“Informing Progress” is an important addition to the body of knowledge around personalized learning and provides a starting point for data-based discussions about how to further improve and scale this model so that more students have access to the education they deserve.

Get more information about scaling competency-based, personalized learning:

Read about school districts implementing personalized learning and hear what teachers have to say about it: