Encouragers and Inhibitors of Personalized Learning According to Teachers of the Year


Twenty-seven state Teachers of the Year & one National Teacher of the Year share some positive & negative forces affecting the personalized learning journey. In a conversation with 27 of the current state teachers of the year and the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, KnowledgeWorks had the opportunity to tap into the minds of the best of the best in the world of pedagogy. This group of great thinkers gave some insight into the positive and negative forces that affect the journey to personalized learning.

What are the positive forces that encourage personalized learning?

  1. Educators Want Students to Succeed: Teachers want their students to have buy-in. They want a positive school environment for their students that includes authentic relationships. Teacher leaders have an intrinsic motivation to impact student learning.
  2. Changing World: The information age and our rapidly changing world is driving innovation in schools. We can no longer ignore the fact that our children all have different needs. There is an increased awareness and focus on meeting individual needs. Our students are becoming globally aware and have a desire to increase their global awareness.
  3. Interdisciplinary Learning Movement: Cross-curricular instruction, STEAM, and Project-based learning are a few of the edu-speak terms nowadays that encourage incorporating multiple disciplines into lessons and activities. This movement also highlights a focus on authentic student learning rather than the seat time.
  4. Technology: Technology is changing the way teachers “do business.” Resources are becoming plentiful and more accessible; teachers are utilizing these resources in the classroom to better meet the needs of their students. Technology is also transforming how we monitor learning progress and learning goals of individual learners.

What are the negative forces that inhibit personalized learning?

  1. Traditional Structures: Many of the age-old structures that exist in schools today no longer make sense. Some examples of these structures: accountability structure, funding formulas, allotment of resources. A highly structured school schedule can also be a barrier to personalized learning. It takes a lot of time and effort to build new structures that make more sense.
  2. Fear of Change: Change can be hard no matter what profession you are in; we tend to be comfortable with the status quo. Teacher mindsets can inhibit personalized learning as well as the fear of going away from a traditional structure in the classroom. Teachers are aware of the collaboration time needed to personalize learning and the time it takes to create tiered resources. There is a lack of professional development when it comes to personalized learning.
  3. Lack of Clarity of Vision and Lack of Communication: It takes a lot of time and effort to create community support and transparency. Often there are politics that a district must navigate through to create change. Sometimes the district or site leadership is not equipped or committed to change which could be a huge barrier in a shift to personalized learning.

In order to address the negative forces toward personalized learning environments for our students, the Teachers of the Year suggested that we begin to transform professional learning. They stated that professional learning needs to be personalized and ongoing. It should be job embedded and sustainable. They are asking that teachers have the resources and climate to support personalized learning implementation. And finally, personalized professional learning should be both bottom up and top down.

Read more teacher perspectives on personalized learning in our recent paper, ‘The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers.’ For more on implementing professional development in a personalized learning environment, including teacher interview excerpts and school and district examples, read “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching: Personalized Learning According to Teachers©.”