Monday, December 31, 2012

10 Predictions for Personalized Learning for 2013

The main change that will happen in teaching and learning in 2013 will be about empowerment. Teachers and learners will be more empowered to take charge of their learning. We will see this through the evidence they share as they learn.

  1. Connected Learners: Teachers and learners of all ages are connecting more than ever. In 2013, we will see teachers expanding their Personal Learning Networks (PLN) using social media. They will be telling more stories and sharing their journeys as they personalize learning. Learners will be using mobile devices for learning in and out of school. We will be seeing learners involved in more global collaborative projects in 2013.

  2. Mobile Devices: When any learner uses a mobile device, it is personal. That is, unless the learning has been "adapted" to the learner by algorithms detecting performance and click rates. Mobile devices provide the learner opportunities to access learning resources, but the learner need to understand how they learn best so they know which resources are the most appropriate for them. Technology can support the learner but not lead the learner down paths that may not meet their learning goals. The learner needs to take responsibility for their learning so they drive it. Not the technology driving their learning. More schools will be moving to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and changing AUPs to include the use of mobile devices. Even the White House created a BYOD Toolkit. We'll be writing more about how this impacts teaching and learning.

  3. Communities of Practice: Teachers are reaching out to connect with each other to talk about best practices. They discuss issues in their faculty rooms, halls, and at conferences. Now they are joining online communities to share and learn from others around the world. We started a Community of Practice on Personalized Learning in LinkedIn that is growing daily with educators around the world. We are setting up Communities of Practice in My eCoach for schools and organizations who want to discuss, learn, and share ideas about personalizing learning in a private and secure area online. They also wanted a place to co-author lessons aligned to Common Core State Standards and publish for their learners. We setup a Community of Practice for the state of Iowa and look forward to some lively discussions there. We will see more Communities of Practices set up in 2013.

  4. Evidence of Learning: Assessment will look different in 2013. It will happen AS learners are learning. They will be collecting evidence and reflecting on the evidence all along instead of waiting until a test. More schools will be moving to Common Core standards-based grading and using ePortfolios. In some cases, learning will be competency-based where learners will demonstrate mastery using authentic assessment strategies instead of standardized tests. We plan to write more on competency-based approaches and share ePortfolios of teachers and learners. We predict assessment will be one of the biggest changes in education in 2013. Look for more feedback loops, libraries of lessons, and ePortfolios.

  5. Taking Risks: Teachers will have more flexibility in their schedules to try new strategies. Administrators are changing how they do teacher evaluations and not basing evaluations only on test scores. We did this too long and it didn't work. We believe districts will take a stand on how important teachers are and the impact they make on children's lives. Some teachers are flipping the classroom and spending more time in the classroom on real-world project work. We believe that more teachers will start flipping the learning so learners take charge of their learning. Learners will be involved in designing their learning with teachers as partners in their learning. We will see more teachers being showcased, because they took risks and had the support they needed so each learner could reach their learning goals. We believe that 2013 will have some very exciting examples and models to share.

  6. Storytelling: It's really all about the stories. Gillian Locke, a senior in Wisconsin, shared her story about having freedom to choose how she learns. Here's a quote from her blog:

    "Every student is different, and each one needs different things. Every school in the US has the potential to deliver personalized learning to each of its students-it will just take some creativity, some time, and some dedicated students, administrators, and teachers."

    Teachers are blogging more and using social media to share their stories. We believe that it will be about the stories and journeys that teachers, learners, and organizations share that will make a difference. We only know what we know and don't know what we don't know. Sounds simple, right? 2013 will be the year of stories. We look forward to sharing more stories and journeys with you.

  7. Learner Voice and Choice: The expert learner has a voice and choice in their learning. They self-regulate and drive their learning. We know this takes time and developed the Three Stages of Personalized Learning. Stage One is teacher-centered with learner voice and choice. Moving from a traditional or legacy approach of teaching to encouraging learner's to have a voice in how they learn and a choice in how they express what they know is a huge culture shift for schools.  Because more teachers and learners will be more connected than ever, we will hear their voice. In 2013, look for more YouTube Channels of teachers with example lessons that include how learners have a voice and choice in their learning.

  8. Unpacking Standards: Common Core State Standards open doors to more creativity and flexibility in learning. More real-world connections make the standards more authentic for learners. We are also seeing this in standards from other countries: the UK, Australia, Canada and others. The world is getting smaller and flatter. Learners want to own their learning very early and can do that by unpacking the standards with their teachers. It is time to bring back inquiry and encourage questions that have no right answers. We believe that in 2013 we will see lessons driven by questions that learners thought of that will blow your minds. Children are amazing and it's time to give them responsibility for what they need to learn to meet their learning goals.

  9. Transforming Learning Environments: When teachers move to Stage One Personalized Learning Environments, they realize they are not the expert any more in the room. The environment of desks facing forward just doesn't work a work. Kevin McLaughlin started personalizing learning one year ago and realized that to personalize learning, you need to  allow the learners to move around, to interact with their peers, to sit anywhere with anyone, to use the floor space as well as a table and not to use groupings of any sort unless there is a specific reason for it. Chris Edwards saw how it worked for Kevin and transformed his classroom of year 2 learners. He calls it "messy learning." His story about getting lost in Greenland is priceless. Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson are Kindergarten teachers in Wisconsin as part of CESA #1 who co-teach in a K-2 team. They opened doors and created inviting and engaging environments. Look for more stories in 2013 from CESA #1 and other places around the world where they are transforming learning.

  10. Building a Common Language: Over the past few years, we have been hearing about personalized learning with different definitions. Is it about technology or not? We have a consensus from some of the leaders around the world who take a similar position that Personalized Learning is the umbrella or big picture that connects the dots. The dots are initiatives, programs, and methodologies a school or district are currently implementing. From the participants in our 5 W's of Personalized Learning eCourse, we now know that the most important piece is building a common language around Personalized Learning before you start transforming learning. We have seen districts spend money on 1:1 programs, but not change teaching strategies. 2013 is the year we will see and participate in exciting discussion about this common language.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Student-Centered Learning in Action

At Massabesic Middle School, Waterboro, ME, middle school students unpack the standards and assess their own learning and learning of others. Take a moment to watch this video to see what student-centered learning looks like and how they demonstrate learner voice and choice. This is an example of what we have been describing as voice and choice and self-directing their learning.

"For so many years, students would receive grades and not know where they came from, what assignments led up to them, how they would be assessed. Now they're involved in not only creating the units and deciding how they will assess themselves, but also how they will assess each other. [Source]

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Personalized Learning Umbrella

Personalized Learning is the "umbrella" or the big picture of transforming teaching and learning. Schools and districts are confused about all the initiatives and how they fit with personalizing learning. Many of the initiatives and programs that are implemented in a school or district can contribute to personalized learning.

The term "Personalized Learning" is confusing. Personalized learning is all about the learner and starts with the learner. It is about the learner self-directing and driving their own learning. A teacher can flip the classroom, provide 1:1 mobile devices for each learner and this can still not be characterized as personalizing learning. If the class is still teacher-centered and learners have no voice and choice how they learn, it is not personalizing learning. If learners are using mobile devices with adaptive curriculum, the technology is personalizing learning for the learner. There is no stake in learning for the learner. Adaptive curriculum can support a personalized learning path, but it is not personalizing learning for the learner.

Personalized learning means learners...
  • know how they learn best.
  • self-direct and self-regulate their learning.
  • design their own learning path.
  • have a voice in and choice about their learning.
  • are co-designers of the curriculum and the learning environment.
  • have flexible learning anytime and anywhere.
  • have quality teachers who guide their learning.
  • use a competency-based model to demonstrate mastery.
  • are motivated and engaged in the learning process.

So when you consider different approaches that have been labeled as Personalized Learning, they may be right, somewhat. Here are some initiatives or school or district based programs that fall under the umbrella of Personalized Learning:

Blended learning means combining face-to-face with online learning opportunities or a hybrid model. This contributes to personalizing learning. Learners can take advantage of multiple opportunities to meet their learning goals by choosing online courses that might not be available on campus.

Competency-based education (CBE) is an initiative that changes assessment strategies so the learner advances by demonstrating mastery instead of relying on time-based systems or grade levels. There is a movement toward CBE around the country. For more information, go to Competency Works.

RTI (Response to Intervention) is a method of academic intervention to provide early, systematic assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. When you personalize learning using UDL principles, you and the learner are identifying learning difficulties and developing strategies for intervention.

Flipped Classrooms are when the teacher posts the instructional material in the form of videos, text, links, and resources for learners to review outside of the classroom. Providing access to the curriculum for all learners is at the core of personalizing learning.

1:1 means that each learner has some type of device for learning. Just putting a device in a learner's hands doesn't mean they own their learning. However, if a learner knows how they learn best and owns their learning, they need access to the apps and tools that support their learning.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) involves learners in engaging activities. However, in most cases, the teacher is designing the project, the roles, the responsibilities, outcomes, and products. To personalize PBL for all learners, the learners can co-design the project, offer a voice in how it is designed, and choose how they will demonstrate mastery.


All of these and more fit under the Personalized Learning Umbrella. It is important to connect the dots of all initiatives and programs under this umbrella of Personalized Learning instead of adding one more initiative. You will find that it flows, it works, and they fit. All of these elements described above, in the end, will support all learners to help them reach their fullest potential and to be fully prepared for college and career.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Messy Learning: Interview with Chris Edwards


Transformational Teacher Interview: Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards is a year 2 - Class2CE teacher at Chad Varah Primary School, Addison Drive, Lincoln, England. The school is for children in years F (4yrs old) to 6 (11yrs old) with nearly 500 children in the school. There are 2 forms (classes) per year group with approximately 30 children in each form (class). Before Chris became a teacher, he was a professional musician. During that time, he occasionally worked with children, teaching music. Chris loved it so much that he decided to become a teacher. He has now been teaching six years.

We have been asked by primary teachers how to personalize learning for young children, so we interviewed Chris how he has personalized learning for children 6 to 7 years old. 

Q. Why did you decide to personalize learning?

A. I decided to personalise learning in my classroom about a year ago.  I watched a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson (the king of creativity) speaking about how he believes that our current education system is killing creativity. What made me think the most was when he said this: “Shakespeare was in someone’s class once, right?” And I thought wow! I have never considered who I may have in my class! I had never realised that in my class could be the next Steve Jobs, the next Prime Minister… What if there is a child in my class now who has the potential to cure cancer… When I started thinking in this way, it changed everything. It made me realise that the most important thing was ensuring that every individual child in my class, realised and reached their full potential.

To make things worse, with that in mind, when I evaluated the teaching and learning in my classroom, I realised that it was not fit for purpose. Regardless of the good observations, I couldn’t, hand on heart, say that the teaching and learning in my classroom inspired and enabled every individual to reach their full potential and develop their individual talents. So I changed it. [Read about how Chris used iPads during an evaluation hiding in his cupboard while his children researched how to bring him home from Greenland.]

I am confident that I now have a system in place that doesn’t kill creativity but rather encourages and engages children in learning. Most importantly I’m confident that we are developing an environment in which all children, supported by me (the facilitator), can begin to realise and reach their full potential.

Q. How are learners in your class changing?

A. The learners in my class are changing in a very noticeable way.  The learners in my class are no longer passive. They are engaged in their own learning and are motivated. Most importantly, they are learning to be resourceful and resilient.  Learning anything is an inherently frustrating process. How can it not be? If we knew it all already, we would not be "learning"! Therefore, having a personality that is more likely to carry on despite frustrations - that is, being academically resilient - is proving to be a huge success. In the form of the iPad, children have a multi-purpose tool that enables them to problem solve effectively. This is helping children to become resourceful and resilient.

Q. What are you going to do to different this year in your classroom?

A. Over this next academic year I will be carrying out a small scale research project. I have called this project ‘Messy Learning.' Over the course of the year, I will focus on and try to answer the following questions…
  1. Can we ensure better progress (against nation curriculum targets – movement through lit and num levels) when we engage children in personalised learning using handheld devices?
  2. Are children more likely to discover and develop their individual talents when engaged in personalised learning and are using handheld devices?
  3. Is it important that children discover and develop their individual talents or should we focus on basic skills (literacy and numbers)?


Q. How did you change your classroom?

A. I learned how to redesign my classroom from Kevin McLaughlin. Here are a few pictures of the redesign of my classroom.

Whole class view
Demonstration/Show Zone 

 Discussion Zone

 Group/Help Zone

Research/Discovery Zone

 Thinking Zone

Twitter: @ChrisEdwards83

Thank you, Chris!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

5 W's of Personalized Learning eCourse (5WS102)

FULL - Winter Series 5WS102
Starts Wed. February 7th throughA pril 25th, 2013*
[For many of our international participants, this series is available the next day your time]


The 5 W’s are the What, Who, Where, Why, and Wow to Personalize Learning. Learn what is and what is not personalized learning, learn how learners learn best, walk through the Three Stages of Personalized Learning Environments, understand how teacher and learner roles will change, and how to use assessment AS learning. 

The 5 W's eCourse includes five webinars, online asynchronous discussions, web conferencing, chats, resources, examples, models of transforming an activity to Stage One Personalized Learning Environments, and participation in a Community of Practice. The webinars and chats will be archived for participants especially for those in different timezones. 

Times for synchronous sessions:
*Wed. [2/7, 2/28, 3/21, 4/4, 4/25,- 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT] The next day for most of our international participants.

Fee: $299 for 30 hour 2 unit course

2 Units of Graduate Credits from Plymouth State University for an additional fee.

The five part series will provide teachers, coaches, and administrators the what, who, where, why, and wow of personalizing learning with the opportunity for participants to learn how they can personalize learning and collaborate in the Community of Practice with educators from all over the world. Many of our participants join as teams from their school or organization so they can continue the conversations at their site.  

Session #1: What is Personalized Learning?
Wed. [2/7- 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT] 
Build a common language about what personalizing learning is and is not. We will be introducing the Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization chart so you understand the differences around the terms and how they complement each other. 

Session #2: Who are your Learners? 
Wed. [2/28 - 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT] 
To transform learning for all learners, it is important to know who your learners are. We will provide an understanding about how learners learn best using Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Expert Learners, the Personal Learner Profile and Class Learning Snapshot.

Session #3: Where is Personalized Learning?
Wed. [3/21 - 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT] 
We will walk through the Three Stages of Personalized Learning, share the research, examples and models of each stage along with discussions on how personalizing learning is a culture shift.

Session #4: Why Personalize Learning? 
Wed. [4/4 - 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT] 
We will reflect on why it is important for learners to become self-directed, self-monitoring, independent, expert learners. Referring to our chart, Assessment as learning is based in research about how learning happens, and is characterized by learners reflecting on their own learning and making adjustments so that they achieve deeper understanding.

Session #5: Wow - Teacher and Learner Roles Change!
Wed. [4/25 - 3:30 PDT, 4:30 MDT, 5:30 CDT, 6:30 EDT
When you personalize learning, teacher and learner roles change. Teachers can become a co-designer, co-learner, guide, and partner in learning. We will refer to expert and independent learners, the continuum of learning, and then show how teachers and learners can be partners in learning. We will provide examples, models, and research about these changing roles.

We offer a discount to your school or district for 5 or more attendees.  
Contact us if you would like us to set up the 5 W's eCourse for your teachers and administrators or would like your own 5 W's eCourse for your organization.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Blueprint to Build Sustainable PLEs

The Blueprint is the foundation, framework, and direction in building Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs) that transform teaching and learning and are sustainable over time.

Everyone in the school community is involved in the vision. Teachers are learners too. When you change the learning environment, teacher and learner roles change. Assessment is essential to measure progress and effectiveness of teaching and learning in the different Stages of Personalized Learning Environments. Assessment is conducted through each phase of the process.

Vision and Plan
Phase One lays the foundation for your Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs). The key is to lay a foundation built on trust and respect from all stakeholders so there is a shared vision and common language around personalized learning.
  • Consult with administrators.
  • Assess current culture and learning environment. 
  • Review lessons and teaching practice.
  • Report results to administrators.
  • Facilitate a shared vision with stakeholders.
  • Provide a strategic plan for implementation of the three Stages of Personalized Learning Environments.

Implement and Coach
Phase Two creates the framework with all the elements you need to build Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs) in your schools and/or districts.

  • Consult with school and district administrators on implementation on one or more of the three Stages of Personalized Learning Environments. 
  • Identify and train Personalized Learning (PL) Coaches and teachers for Pilot.
  • Understand how learners learn best based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.
  • Design Personal Learner Profiles TM and Personal Learner Backpacks TM.
  • Guide design of Personal Learning Plans and Toolkit for each Pilot Teacher.
  • Set up a Community of Practice (CoP) for Leaders, PL Coaches and Pilot Teachers. 
  • Demonstrate how to unpack the CCSS and build inquiry-based environments.
  • Coach PL Coaches to design model lessons and projects.
  • Provide ongoing assessment of implementation that includes surveys, interviews, classroom observations, evaluations of training and coaching sessions, reflections, and other evidence of learning.
  • Provide reports about ongoing progress of PLE coaching program.

Expand and Sustain
Phase Three provides the direction to expand and sustain personalized learning for all learners. 

  • Identify teachers ready to transform learning as co-teachers and partners in learning.
  • Coach the PL Coaches to set up their own Communities of Practice to support teachers.
  • Design ongoing coaching programs that support teachers and learners.
  • Develop Master Teacher and Lead Learner Programs as the human infrastructure that will support sustainability.
  • Encourage assessment AS learning with ongoing reflection and videos of process.
  • Coordinate a showcase and online area to demonstrate evidence of learning.
  • Conduct a post-assessment to measure transformation of learning.
  • Deliver progress report with recommendations and action plan for expanding and sustaining PLEs 

The three phases are the overall process that we implement in the Blueprint. We have used this process in some form or another in our training and coaching programs for many years. When we pulled our resources and strategies together, we realized that we needed to formulate the process that we both were using as one Blueprint that could be easily understood and implemented.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Expert Learner with Voice and Choice

Who is the Expert Learner?
Expert learners take responsibility for their learning. They view learning as something they do for themselves, not something that is done to them or for them. [Source: The Expert Learner]
"The more educators give students choice, control, challenge, and collaborative opportunities, the more motivation and engagement are likely to rise. The enhancement of agency has been linked to a variety of important educational outcomes, including: elevated achievement levels in marginalized student populations, greater classroom participation, enhanced school reform efforts, better self-reflection and preparation for improvement in struggling students, and decreases in behavioral problems." [Source: Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice from the research from Students at the Center]
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) perspective for the Expert Learner is for a learner to be:
  • Resourceful and knowledgeable
  • Strategic and goal-directed
  • Purposeful and motivated
© CAST 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

In a personalized learning environment, the learner fully understands how they learn. With this knowledge, the learner is empowered to have a voice and choice with their learning. In personalized learner-centered and learner-driven environments, they can be active and engaged participants in their learning. They are no longer the vessels where information is poured into them, but are learners who are motivated and engaged because they have a voice, choice and can monitor their own learning.
"Promoting student voice can be of enormous benefit to the teacher’s craft as well. When teachers open space for voice in the classroom, a unique window into what the student thinks and feels about her learning also opens. When student voice is facilitated, the teacher can observe how the student is making sense of things and where that student wants to go with that knowledge. Such information is invaluable to the teacher designing instruction to meet individual needs." [Source: Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice from the research from Students at the Center. p.25]
Building Learner Voice and Choice
The Three Stages of Personalized Learning Environments provide the process to encourage learner voice. This process can guide the design of personalized learning environments that meets the needs of all learners. Traditional teaching practice usually involves explicit direct instruction. In this case, everything depends on the teacher, the hardest working person in the classroom. To really learn something, the learner needs to be challenged and motivated enough to want to learn. When a teacher moves to Stage One, they give over some of the responsibilities of teaching to the learners so they are more motivated and engaged in how and what they learn.

Stage One is teacher-centered and encourages learner voice and some choice. Learner voice is a critical first step. There are ways to do this and this table below describes how the teacher and learner roles change in this stage.

When you design a project where you want to bring in learner voice and choice, consider referencing the chart above and starting with  these steps:

  1. learn about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to understand how your learners learn best.
  2. redesign the learning environment so learners have access to multiple strategies that best meet their needs and the way they learn best.
  3. encourage learners to create learning goals and a plan describing the strategies and resources that are appropriate to meet their learning goals.
  4. encourage learners to select how they choose to access and engage with content.

When learners have the opportunities to say what they think and be heard by their peers and others, they feel their opinions and perspectives are valued and appreciated. Think about yourself as a learner and what it might feels like if you have a voice in how you learn and even influence decisions about teaching and learning.

“If we all did the things we are capable of,
we would astound ourselves.”

Thomas Edison

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blended Learning is Not the Only Way to Personalize Learning

Blended learning means offering a combination of face-to-face and online learning opportunities to learners. Blending these learning opportunities can contribute to personalizing learning. However, blended learning is not the only approach that personalizes learning. Personalizing learning starts with the learner. This means that learners have a stake in their learning by taking responsibility for their learning. When they own and drive their learning, they are more motivated to want to learn. In a learning environment that starts with the learner, teacher and learner roles change.

The research at the Students at the Center ( wrote nine reports on student-centered learning. Eric Toshalls, Ed.D., and Michael Nakkula, Ed.D. in one report, wrote the research on “Learning Theory: Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” that described:

The Trifecta of Student Centered Learning

Motivation - Without motivation, there is no push to learn
Engagement - Without engagement, there is no way to learn
Voice - Without voice, there is no authenticity in learning

“For students to create a new knowledge, to succeed academically, and to develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences.”
Toshalls and Nakkula

Technology, especially mobile devices, allows learning to feel more personal. Everything is at your fingertips. In fact, there are thousands of new apps and online courses available every day. If a school does not offer a class, you can take it online. Textbooks are going digital which will make a difference in access to content for many learners. Learning objects and games can build skills that engage learners in the content. Learners are more connected than ever before. Being connected to the content offers opportunities for anyone to learn anywhere anytime. With so much content readily available, much of it can be a distraction. A teacher as a partner in learning can help facilitate learning.

Blending learning offers learning opportunities that are usually not available in a traditional classroom. Personalized learning is built on relationships. Educational researchers from Brown University (2000) set out to define “personalized learning” based on events occurring in a regular school day, assembling into categories that might explain how schools can organize themselves to personalize learning for all students. They identified six categories of supportive interactions across all schools, each reflecting a developmental need of students.

Reference:  Chapter 10 of the publication, “Making Learning Personal: Educational Practices That Work” by John Clarke and Edorah Fraizer

This research demonstrated how learner’s personal needs can be met as flexible options for engaged learning. They determined that when you take into account how learners learn best based on their needs, talents, and aspirations and there is a learning environment that trusts and respects each learner, the learner self-directs their learning to find their purpose and goals for learning.

“Historically, most classrooms have been ‘curriculum-centered’ rather than ‘student-centered.’ The core elements of the curriculum is most schools-textbooks and related print materials - are fixed, standardized, uniform, one-size-fits-all, but students on the other hand, are anything but uniform or standardized.” [Curricular Opportunities Digital Age. Students at the Center by David H. Rose, Ph.D and Jenna W. Gravel, March 2012]

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Personalized learning as described in the research at Brown is built on the framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that is based upon decades of brain-research and neuroscience of individual differences, human variability and on how we learn. UDL is often thought about how it relates to special education, but to dispel that myth, the UDL principles is about how we understand how every learner learns.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (

If you start with the learner by considering their interests, passions, aspirations, and talents and use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles:
  • how the learner accesses content
  • how they engage with that content
  • how they express what they know
then the learner self-directs and self-regulates their learning. When this happens, teacher roles change.

Voice and Choice
Being connected to technology does not always mean the learner has a voice and choice in what and how they learn. The culture of traditional school with bell schedules, pacing guides, and standardized tests doesn’t allow for flexibility in instructional practice. There are blended learning environments that offer multiple stations with highly structured rotation schedules and opportunities for teachers to provide intervention strategies based on data. In most cases, these rotation schedules are fit into existing bell schedules. Just putting students in front of a computer or mobile device that keeps track of performance based on algorithms is not personalizing learning. The teacher or the technology “personalizes” the learning for the learner.

When you use Universal Design for Learning principles for all learners, they have a voice in choosing how they access, engage and express the content. In a structured, blended learning environment, the teacher manages the schedules and uses data to provide intervention strategies. Blended learning can contribute to a personalized learning environment if there are flexible schedules and learners are involved in the design of their learning.

Partners in Learning
Maybe it’s all about semantics. Change the word “student” to “learner” and think about the teacher as a guide or facilitator of learning. Being a student implies that learning starts with the curriculum and is done to you. Being a learner means that learning is self-directed and can happen anywhere and anytime. As a partner in learning, the teacher is a co-designer and co-learner with their learners. Terms tend to get lost in translation because “personalized” means something different to different organizations. Consider that learning is “personal” when it starts with the learner. A personalized learning environment can be where the teacher is a partner in learning with their learners if learning starts with the learners.

Does “flipping the classroom” personalize learning? Flipping the classroom means that teachers are uploading their lectures and content for students to review, study, and learn outside of the classroom. This leaves the classroom time to discuss, experiment, and collaborate on projects. Flipping the classroom is still teacher-directed but it is moving in the right direction. Learning is more collaborative and starting to be less passive. Learning needs to be active so it is challenging, rigorous and engaging. To have learning more active, teachers and learners as partners in learning can co-design lessons and assessment strategies and flip lessons together. They can use assessment as learning to reflect on their learning as it happens instead of waiting until a quiz or end of year test.

All of this can happen more effectively when each learner has technology that provides access to the content with a teacher as a learning guide. Technology can support assessment as learning in multiple forms: games, learning objects that provide ongoing checks for understanding, publishing online, collaborative projects, and reflection on evidence of learning as ePortfolios. Technology can engage learners in the learning process so they own and drive their learning. Personalized learning environments start with the learners, not the curriculum nor the technology.

Consider starting with the learners who co-design how they blend online and face-to-face learning with their teachers as partners in learning.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Blueprint for the Race to the Top - District Competition (RTT-D)

The top priority for the U.S. Department of Education’s new Race to the Top-District (RTT–D) competition is to create personalized-learning environments to bolster student achievement:

Absolute Priority 1: Personalized Learning Environments (PLE).
To meet this priority, an applicant must coherently and comprehensively address how it will build on the core educational assurance areas to create learning environments that are designed to significantly improve learning and teaching through the personalization of strategies, tools, and supports for students and educators that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards or college- and career-ready graduation requirements; accelerate student achievement and deepen student learning by meeting the academic needs of each student; increase the effectiveness of educators; expand student access to the most effective educators; decrease achievement gaps across student groups; and increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.

We are getting requests to support RTT-D applications from around the country based on our work with personalizing learning. Our discussions with the contact persons in charge of federal programs at many districts and consortiums of districts, made us realize that the term “Personalized Learning” seems to be confusing. Some believe it is all about the technology and adaptive courseware. Others think that blending learning on-site and online is all you have to do to personalize learning. Technology does play a role but it is not the only role. A 1:1 program and BYOD (Bring your own Device) option allows learners to take more responsibility for their learning. However, just putting technology in everyone's hands doesn't mean that learning is personal or learners are learning. Personalizing learning means teacher and learner roles change. The environment looks different. It is a system-wide transformation and culture shift.

We are also talking to districts where they have already had the conversations about personalizing learning starting with the learner. Their conversations revolved around our chart on Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization and the three stages of personalized learning environments
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These districts have told us that these conversations have been so important and helped them with their decisions. These RTT-D applications represent not only a lot of money your schools will receive but a huge commitment and work from all stakeholders in your schools and community.

Four Year Plan to Build a Sustainable Personalized Learning Environment

Since we have years of experience as technology integration coaches, change agents and have facilitated lesson and project design that incorporated these new teacher roles, we know how long it takes to change existing practice. We have seen schools that have purchased lots of technology, but do not provide sufficient time to implement the initiative. In some cases, if the results were not immediate, the initiative was ended and a new one started. The RTT-D competition allows for building a sustainable system over a four year period. We know it takes at least four years to make real change. Personalizing learning can incorporate many of your existing initiatives or a redesign of a combination of what you are doing. In some cases, it will be a complete redesign.

This takes a process, a common language that everyone understands, a shared vision that involves all stakeholders, and an action plan detailing the steps to transform teaching and learning. We designed a four year plan that supports teaching and leading in the application. We work closely with your leadership team to integrate our services across the four year plan.

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We provide you the process, research, and materials to guide you as you, your teachers, and your learners personalize learning. We have a process that starts with Stage One pilot projects and train the coaches. Each new pilot is brought on systematically across the stages that best meet the needs of your community. We assist you in building a community of practice so teachers and leaders can develop a common understanding of what personalizing learning means. We facilitate the conversations about what is and isn't working, do action research, encourage reflection and sharing as a collaborative process to support each other.

Professional learning opportunities need to be job-embedded and available anytime, anywhere. Our job is to help you build the community that is based on trust and respect. We support your coaches and teacher leaders who can make this change happen. We know how to connect the dots not only to the research, people, and schools who are transforming learning; we also connect the dots of your initiatives and programs to personalized learning environments. 

Moving to a personal learning system is a huge task. Teachers want the best for their learners. If teachers have the support, resources, time, and flexibility to innovate, they will do what is best for their learners. They want to make a difference in children’s lives. If all stakeholders in the community create a sustainable shared vision of personalized learning that encourages creativity and engagement with learners who take responsibility for their learning, then the implementation of the vision and plan over a four year period will work for every learner so they are college- and career-ready.  


Use the contact form to request the pre-assessment survey. The information in the pre-assessment can help us determine your readiness to transform teaching and learning in a personalized learning environment. We want to make the process as easy as we can for you. You can email us ( if you have questions.