This post was written by former KnowledgeWorks President and CEO Charles Ambrose, EdD.
Personalized learning is personal. To the community, to the district, to the school, to the classroom, to the teacher and, most importantly, to the student. Personalized learning is driven by good teaching and strong student supports centered on the needs of each student.
A recent New York Times article about a Kansas community’s backlash against a web-based learning model underscores the importance of including the community in the co-design and implementation of local education opportunities. It also, unfortunately, feeds the growing misperception that personalized learning is only synonymous with technology.
Technologies like artificial intelligence, social media and automation are transforming our economy, and it’s happening at breakneck speed. If our graduates are going to thrive in this environment, they’ll need to be adaptable, confident problem solvers who embrace change. And while they will need to navigate technology to achieve their career goals, that doesn’t mean their educational experience should be defined by it.
Personalized learning that is competency-based, building on what students know and know how to do, is successfully serving today’s learners when implemented with intentionality. It can be especially important for struggling learners and groups historically marginalized by mainstream education. When educators, parents and community partners collaborate to design learning experiences, they’re leveraging each student’s interests, meeting their unique needs and aligning systems and supports that address their community’s aspirations for their graduates. These educators and community partners work together to lift up each student’s voice and provide the customized supports necessary to ensure every student masters the critical knowledge and skills necessary for success in the future workforce.
It’s an approach that is gaining traction throughout the country.
At KnowledgeWorks, we have helped school districts, teachers, families and communities implement personalized, competency-based learning with a focus on making sure schools can serve each and every student’s unique needs. Doing this well involves a broad range of stakeholders partnering to create a shared vision for learning that supports all children and revitalizes the community.
While communities that have embraced personalized learning have their own priorities and methodology, the thread that binds them begins with community conversations, puts issues of equity front and center and focuses on teacher-student relationships. A strong classroom community is one in which students feel empowered, valued and connected with their teachers. It is an environment designed to produce graduates who are self-starting, critical thinkers who are ready for college or career. Students have demonstrated competency but have also honed critical leadership skills they’ll need to succeed in career and personal life.
By meeting each student where they are and providing comprehensive supports to help accelerate content and skill mastery, personalized learning holds the promise to finally close opportunity gaps by race, income, geography and learning differences.
Communities should feel empowered to lead conversations about what learning model will best serve their students. They will undoubtedly have to navigate the question of whether to, or how to, incorporate technology into their classrooms. Some may see it as a tool that enables quality instruction, others may see it as a distraction. What matters most is that the community decides this together and collectively mobilizes to do what is best for students. Efforts to paint personalized learning and technology with a broad brush jeopardize the power of these community conversations and slow down the momentum for change, fueling misperceptions that effectively close the door on a range of possibilities that could better meet student needs.