35. What is personalized learning? #LifeWideLearning16@bhwilkoff
— Zac Chase (@MrChase) February 4, 2016
I used to say it is a complex issue and there are a whole bunch of answers that are all correct. I used to say that we are still trying to figure it out and that there needs to be more research into the intricacies of how technology supports learning. I used to say that everyone has their own “personalized” definition and it is important that we shouldn’t pigeonhole it too much because then it will get co-opted by folks who don’t really “get it.”
I used to say those things, but I don’t anymore.
I don’t because personalization means something specific. It is simple and can be easily communicated. It doesn’t require extra research or a series of whitepapers in order to sort it out. Instead, it requires only that we accept it and start to look at how it fundamentally changes the way in which we build and support schools.
Personalized Learning is the learner as agent in their learning.
That’s it. If the learner is the agent of their learning, it will be personalized. It will be according to their needs and built upon their strengths. It will be filled with choice and leverage just the right resources because the learner is the one who is asking for them.
With learner as agent, teachers cannot fill that role because it is already taken. They can facilitate learning and they can create an environment for it to happen, but they can never be the who makes it happen. The agent is the one who asks questions and makes things. The agent is the one who takes responsibility and wonders out loud.
We can model that agency as teachers and leaders. We can build schools that are supportive of students sharing their voice and making good decisions. We can frame the conversations we have about learners and learning so that they are focused upon the actions of a person, a full-fledged human being.
When learners are the agent of their learning:
- They choose the device on which to both consume and demonstrate their learning
- They are supported by those who care about them most
- They build things that they are truly passionate about and they solve problems within their own lives and communities
- They are often challenged by teachers and other learners to go deeper or to learn about things that aren’t immediately accessible to them.
- They know what comes next in their learning and they have a plan to achieve it.
- They know themselves as learners and can leverage their strengths
- They are continually balancing and reprioritizing their interests and responsibilities, setting themselves up for success inside and outside of school
- They have access to everything they have ever learned or created
- They are connected to other learners across their city, their community, and their world
- They can advocate for their needs for safety, health, and shelter
- They make choices about the best environments for them to learn within
The list goes on. When learners are agents in their learning, learning doesn’t stop. So, can we please stop acting like we don’t know what personalized learning means?
A Person Learns. People have (or should have) agency. Ergo, Personalized Learning. Stop making it more complicated than that.
“People have (or should have) agency. Ergo, Personalized Learning.”
That certainly should be true. Students should be a fundamental part of planning their own learning. We as teachers should do everything we can to help students understand their strengths and needs, and then help them use that knowledge to make the best choices for themselves.
However, that’s not how the term “personalized” is commonly used. More often than not, “personalized” is something done TO students. Someone else (or some opaque piece of software) determines what and how students will learn, with the only input from them being their responses to test questions.