Recently, I was reflecting on the degree to which we create a digital footprint in our daily lives. It really begins when I pick up my cell phone in the morning and see several notifications on my screen to cue up my day. Soon after that I go to my iPad to check my digital newspapers, email, Twitter, InspirED, and I have to admit, interest-specific Pinterest boards. Throughout the day when I use my E-ZPass, a credit card, or do a Google search, I am continually experiencing places and events that further solidify my digital footprint in the world. (Yes, the thought of this can be a bit daunting in the protection of one’s privacy, but that’s another blog post for another author!)
All of these apps and platforms that I use regularly are personal, and they speak to what has become a world of endless customization: I can set my preferences to ensure I see what I want to see, and that it’s efficient, accurate, and usable for my needs. Beyond work, you can see how the marketing of food products, clothing, sporting goods, and leisure activities are based on a connection to each consumer in a personal way. We have come to expect this level of personalization in our culture. Except, of course, in school.
We have come to expect this level of personalization in our culture. Except, of course, in school.
I have worked for decades in education as a teacher, principal, and now supporting schools, districts, and states who want to transform their model of learning. And although we are making positive strides in breaking through the one-size-fits-all model of industrial education, we have a long way to go before education systemically offers this same level of personalization to its students. We hold strongly to the teacher-centered grade-level-based curriculum that drives learning.
To really understand personalization, think of how learners need to set their preferences for their learning experiences. Here is the shift: we must provide learning environments which allow them to customize their learning. Unless and until we do that, the curriculum and learning will continue to rest in the teachers’ hands and not the learners. This shift to a learner-centered flexible curriculum, driven by student preferences and needs, builds proficiency over time and can be customized to individual student pacing. In doing this, learners establish their unique learning footprint they need to learn and grow, and that they will take with them as they journey through life.
We must provide learning environments, which allow students to customize their learning. Unless and until we do that, the curriculum and learning will continue to rest in the teachers’ hands and not the learners.
But how do we begin to make this shift happen? Schools and districts are distinct in their journey toward personalization. They can act as accelerants for our education system, using new practices, assets, and approaches to deepen learning and allow for a customization like never before. For example, Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, who we are teaming up with, began a focus on project-based learning experiences several years ago. Recently, with their work on developing their portrait of a graduate, district leadership recognized that a focus on academics alone falls short in helping students develop the competencies for success in further education or the workforce. With that understanding, Loudoun’s team is developing professional learning experiences that will immerse teachers in opportunities to design projects that create conditions for more personalized and customized learning for students, allowing each of their unique learning footprints to drive where they go. We can’t wait to see how it unfolds and how school becomes more relevant and personal for Loudoun students.