Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scaling Personalized Learning

Guest post by Jesse Moyer, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, KnowledgeWorks

What Will It Take to Scale Personalized Learning?

Personalized learning, broadly speaking, is stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless examples of personalized learning environments, models, and schools from coast to coast. We have all seen that great school or model and the world of possibilities it offers for the students that attend the school. But how are the other students in that district being educated? How do we reach a level of scale that provides personalized learning for all students?  KnowledgeWorks’ District Conditions for Scale aim to answer those questions.

The idea for identifying the conditions necessary for districts to scale personalized learning was born out of KnowledgeWorks’ research and advocacy efforts around competency-based education (CBE). Our most recent future forecast, Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem, suggests that the future of learning will be radically personalized for every student. Because KnowledgeWorks believes policy should be grounded in practice, we began to socialize the idea of radical personalization with practitioners and thought leaders, continually finding that competency-based system, while looking different in the contexts of different communities, is the most effective way for districts to move toward achieving personalized learning today.

We initially thought there would be little appetite from policymakers to learn more about CBE when we included it in our recommendations for the Obama Administration’s second term. To our surprise, there was a lot of interest, both from those in the Administration and on Capitol Hill. Because of this, we set out to learn as much as we could about districts that have had success with a competency-based system in order to inform our advocacy efforts. 

In addition to reading countless reports and policy briefs on the subject, the most important part of our research involved speaking with those leading this work on the ground.  As we had these conversations, two things became clear:

  1. Because of federal and state policy barriers, resistance to change by various stakeholders, and the work it takes to change a district’s culture, this work isn’t easy.
  2. There are a number of commonalities across the districts that are implementing CBE well.

In order to better understand these commonalities, we interviewed nine thought leaders and policymakers along with 19 superintendents from 10 different states. We asked them to review a draft set of conditions containing our best thinking, giving us feedback about what seemed right, what seemed wrong, and what was missing.  Based on these conversations, we were able to refine the district conditions into what they are today.  These conditions, including instruction, assessment, professional and leadership development, and partnerships, may seem familiar. But, when implemented in a personalized learning district and aligned with the meta-themes below, they look and feel different than if they were occurring in a tradition school setting.

While the conditions themselves are extremely important, it is the meta-themes that serve as the connective tissues of the conditions and are the reason that a district must implement each of the ten conditions in order to successfully scale practices to improve teaching, learning, and student achievement.

The district’s vision should include the guiding principles on which each decision a district makes should be based.  Each of the conditions should be aligned to the district’s vision for teaching and learning.

The vision clearly informs the culture each district is trying to create.  A strong culture will encourage risk-taking among district and school leaders and teachers while enabling innovation at every level of the district.

Transparency allows everyone in the district, from board members to community partners to parents and students, to take chances without fear of failure.  By encouraging transparency, everyone in the district is better able to make decisions based on the best interests of the students.

To further assist districts in their difficult, but worthwhile, efforts to transition to personalized learning, KnowledgeWorks is in the process of creating a toolkit to help districts put these conditions in place. In addition, we are creating a policy framework that states can implement to support districts in their efforts. The toolkit and policy framework will be published in June of this year and will be released via the KnowledgeWorks newsletter. In the end, our goal is the realization of our forecast’s vision of radically personalized learning for all.


Jesse Moyer currently serves KnowledgeWorks as Manager of Strategic Initiatives.  In this role, Jesse manages research support of KnowledgeWorks' publication/thought leadership strategy, works closely with various states on education advocacy opportunities, and provides leadership for special projects that cut across the Policy and Communications team and the entire organization.  Prior to his current role, Jesse served as Coordinator, Organizational Learning and Innovation, helping organizations think differently about the world they wanted to create, primarily through his work with KnowledgeWorks’ future educational forecasting.

Before joining KnowledgeWorks, he served as Director of Chapter Services for Phi Delta Theta Fraternity General Headquarters, directing membership education and support activities for more than 10,000 undergraduate members on over 150 campuses across the United States and Canada.

Jesse earned a Master of Education from Xavier University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Dakota.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Multi-age Co-teaching: #plearnchat 2/23/15

Every other Monday at 7pm ET, we host #plearnchat. We want to thank everyone for actively participating in our chat on Multi-Age Co-Teaching. This was Trend #5 in the 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015.

Our big question "how do multi-age classrooms and co-teaching teams support personalized learning?" guided the discussions with some fantastic educators! We learned about different strategies new to us and hope to share some of these strategies as models and examples in future posts. Twitter chats are amazing an professional learning experience! At each of our chats, we randomly choose one of the participants who has been active in several our chats.

Congratulations Jessica (Jae) Harroun! @JaeHarroun won our book, Make Learning PersonalJessica works at KM Create in the Kettle Moraine School District. KM Create focuses on personalized learning, inter-disciplinary inquiry projects, and assessment as learning approach.
Our next chat is Monday, March 9, 2015 at 7pm ET on the topic "Play-based and Personalized Learning." Here is the archived chat from the 2/23 chat.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Personalize Learning on the Dr. Will Show

What a fun time we had as guests of The Dr. Will Show on Feb. 18, 2015 -- as part of a Google Hangout.  We really appreciate his thought-provoking questions concerning personalized learning. We highly recommend watching his show and even being on his show. He's a great host and the time just flies by.

Here's some of the questions Dr. Will asked us with a few of our answers:

  1. Can you define personalized learning for us?
    That one was easy for us. We just read our definition that was on p. 34 of our book or we probably could have gone on for the whole hour. :o)

  2. Why was it important to make those distinctions between personalized learning, differentiation, and individualization?
    We shared our PDI chart that is on the inside of the front cover and shared some of the differences. The main distinction is that differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered and personalization is learner-centered.

  3. How can personalized learning be done to scale?
    We talked about the culture shift that happens when you personalize learning. Teacher and learner roles change. This is more of a transformation than reforming the current system. It is more than putting technology in kids' hands. They need to learn the skills to become self-directed learners. Teachers need training, resources, and ongoing support.

  4. What is the teacher's role in personalize learning?
    The teacher becomes a guide, a facilitator and a partner in learning. This is a process so we shared our Stages of Personalized Learning chart. Stage One is teacher-centered with learner voice and choice. We call this dipping your toes in personalized learning. It takes time to change how you teach and maybe one lesson at a time. We introduced Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as the framework for personalized learning.

  5. What is the learner's role in personalized Learning?
    The learner becomes more responsible for their learning so they become more self-directed and an independent learner.  We shared why we call "students" "learners." Students are taught to be compliant and they "do" school. Learners take an active role in their learning. They co-design their Personal Learner Profile with their teacher.

  6. With these new roles, what does the classroom environment look like?
    We shared that when the teacher and learners know how they learn best, they redesign the learning environment to meet all the needs of everyone in the class. Several examples included Lisa Welch's and Wanda Richardson's K-1 multi-age co-teaching model at KM Explore that they call "ageless and gradeless." We mentioned that a personalized learning environment sounds like a coffee shop. There is a hum with activity happening in multiple types of learning spaces.

  7. Where is personalize learning happening?
    We referred to Chapter 4 in our book because there are so many examples and models we share there. We shared several such as RSU2 District in Maine that is a K-12 performance-based system with a transparent curriculum. They have competencies aligned to measurement topics for every grade level. Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School in Vermont that has designed a personalized learning program called the Pathways Program where high school learners design their pathways to graduation.

  8. Where do you see personalized learning within our K-12 system in two to three years?We referred to our recent post on 10 Trends to Personalize Learning where we see more and more districts re-thinking their vision and asking us to guide them in the design of a shared belief system. More schools are taking risks and looking for opportunities to develop pilots or models. We have models and journeys on our website and have been hearing from teachers, leaders, and researchers who approached us to share their findings. It is very exciting!

  9. What is your advice for teachers and administrators who are interested in implementing personalized learning?
    Personalizing learning is not a new initiative or fad. It changes the culture in your schools. The first thing to do is to build your vision and make sure you involve all stakeholders in the process to create a shared belief system. To transform teaching and learning, you need a commitment from everyone. We shared what we do, our services, our book, and the 5 W's of Personalized Learning eCourse. If you are curious about how we can support you as you personalize learning, check out our Services page.

Thank you Dr. Will!!

Check out more of Dr. Will's interviews at and follow Dr. Will on Twitter @iamDrWill

Don't miss our Twitter chat using #plearnchat on 2/23 at 7pm ET on Multi-age classrooms with Co-teaching teams.