Wednesday, December 17, 2014

10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015

2015 is the year the focus will finally turn the corner by organizations in education and the business world to get it right: it is about the learner. It is not about calling it “Personalized Instruction” or “Personalized Education.” It is not about the technology, the curriculum, or instruction. It is about the learner making learning personal for his or herself. It is about teacher and learner roles changing. It is about calling students “learners.” It is about transforming the system because now is the time to change the system. The current system is broken. It isn’t working for most of our learners. The current system of content delivery and focusing on performance instead of learning is not making positive changes for our children and their future. So we put together four large concepts that encompass the 10 trends that you will see impacting learning starting this coming year: Learning Culture, Learning Environments, Deeper Learning, and Partners in Learning.

        Learning Culture
  1. Belief System
    Culture in a school and our understanding of teaching and learning does not change unless we have a shared belief system. All stakeholders have a set of beliefs around teaching and learning yet they may not come together around a belief system they all agree with. Schools have to start off with a shared belief system to create the change. Most of us only know about teaching and learning from when we went through the system as a student where we learned to be compliant and follow the rules. It’s easier to keep the status quo going and doing what we are used to be doing than changing how we teach. Change is hard, but change is necessary now for our kids and their future. 2015 is the year. Expect to see more stories about belief systems and the change happening in schools.

  2. Competency-based System
    Competency-based pathways (sometimes referred to as “proficiency-based” or “performance-based”) are a re-engineering of our education system around learning where failure is no longer an option. Learners may move at their own pace, reading at one level and working on a math digital badge at another level. Competency education is rooted in the notion that education is about mastering a set of skills and knowledge, not just moving through a curriculum. Currently, 42 states have adopted policies that give schools different ways to award credit to learners including waivers from time-based requirements. In 2015, schools will be held accountable to demonstrate how their learners progress in a competency-based system where time is a variable. We will see more research and case studies around competency-based systems that move from teacher-centered to learner-centered.

  3. Self-Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems
    A Personalized Learning System is a culture shift and a change in process that impacts the entire school community. Moving to learner-centered environments is more than just handing over the keys to the learner so they drive their own learning right away. As more schools build a shared belief system, more districts will need to support the transformation to learner-centered environments. So the system is self-sustainable, it will be important to build capacity with your own staff. Just like we want learners to own their learning, we want schools to take ownership for their personalized learning system. Teachers are learners too, so they will need coaching support. Teachers will develop Personal Professional Learning Plans based on learning goals developed with the teacher and coach. In 2015, we will see an increase in Personal Professional Learning Plans with coaching programs where schools use their coaches to support teachers in building self-sustainable Personalized Learning Systems.

    Learning Environments
  4. Flexible Learning Spaces
    The twenty-first century is challenging old notions of learning spaces. The idea that learners must be seated at desks in rows is becoming archaic. Why? Because the world is changing. Technology and the move to personalizing learning, collaborative work and projects is changing the classroom. Teachers no longer have to stand up and deliver “sit and get” curriculum. Some may call these spaces blended learning, but they need to be learner-centered not teacher-centered. Flexible learning spaces are designed to give learners options to learn so they can invite curiosity, creativity and collaboration. Hundreds of teachers who participated in our 5 Ws of Personalized Learning eCourse® have transformed and shared their classrooms. Everyday we are getting new stories. So in 2015, expect pictures and videos of flexible learning spaces along with some great stories and reflections about their journeys.

  5. Multi-Age Co-Teaching Classrooms
    Multi-age classrooms are when one or more teachers teach multiple grade levels. Schools have accommodated multi-age classes when there were smaller classes in some grades and they needed to fill space. Now since we are moving to competency-based systems, schools are realizing that grouping by age isn’t working. When you group one, two or more grade levels together, then it is perfect for teachers to co-teach in one large learning environment. For too long, teachers have been working in isolation behind closed doors. What co-teaching does is not only open those doors but it develops a professional relationship where two or more teachers collaborate to support learners more effectively. Consider what can happen in these multi-age co-teaching classrooms where learners are flexibly grouped throughout the day based on the activity, subject, work habits, level of independent and content knowledge. Sometimes the learners are grouped heterogeneously in exploratory learning in science and social studies but are grouped by skill, ability or goals when involved with math or literacy learning. These multi-age co-teaching models allow for looping so learners stay with the same teachers for more than one year. In 2015, we will see more multi-age co-teaching models that are what KM Explore in Wales, WI states are "ageless and gradeless."

    Deeper Learning

  6. Inquiry-based Project-based Learning (PBL)
    Project-based learning is a form of inquiry-based learning that is contextual, creative and shared, where learners collaborate on projects that require critical thinking and communication.  Learners can do projects to demonstrate mastery and apply what they learned about a problem. Yet, there is a difference between doing projects and project-based learning activities. A project that a teacher designed may have all learners create the same product instead of focusing on the process. The greatest potential for PBL is that it calls for authentic assessment and presenting what you learned to a real audience. Inquiry-based means encouraging learner voice and choice where they ask the questions around their interests and what they are passionate about. When this happens, learners are motivated, engaged, and own their learning. In 2015, we will see more showcases and exhibitions of PBL demonstrating mastery with evidence of learning and reflections on the process.

  7. Play-based Learning
    Purposeful play should be the central learning experience in early learning classrooms. It is a natural way of learning that supports creativity and imagination. But why should play be limited to primary classrooms only? It doesn't matter what age we are; we all like to play. This is where technology and pedagogy can intersect. Consider each learner has a Personal Learning Backpack that supports learning and instructional strategies. Play is actually about social and emotional learning and how people learn in a social context. When you play, you can challenge yourself in meaningful tasks that have a purpose. In 2015, we will share research around play-based and game-based learning. We will see research that focuses on the pedagogy around play and the use of technology based on how learners learn best.

  8. Assessment AS Learning
    Assessment as learning is where learners monitor their progress and reflect on their own learning. It is based on research about how learning happens and is characterized by monitoring their progress and making adjustments to their learning as they learn so they achieve deeper understanding. In the world of standardized tests and teacher-directed environments, teachers tend to be accountable for all the learning, not the learners. When you move to assessment as learning, the types of assessments change. Learners are not only more responsible for their learning, they are more accountable as they monitor and reflect on their progress. This is what personalizing learning is all about. It is about meta-learning and learning about learning. In 2015, you will see assessment changing and adopting more assessment as learning strategies.

    Partners in Learning

  9. Partnerships between Teacher and Learners
    Personalized learning is all about building relationships. The partnership between teacher and learner is about understanding how they learn best using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Express. The conversations are all about the learning, their interests, aspirations, hopes along with their strengths and challenges a learner may have in their Personal Learning Plans. This partnership says to the learner how much the teacher cares about them, their learning and their future. 32 states have begun to use Personal Learning Plans (PLP) or Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) with 21 states mandating for use with all learners. In 2015, expect to see more information and research about PLPs or ILPs happening and growing in the middle and high school level.

  10. Advisories
    Each learner can be assigned to at least one advisor over several years. An advisor can be any adult in the building. In fact, each learner can have several advisors that could include another learner. The idea around advisories is that there has to be a purpose for the advisory program, and it is important to start each advisory with a clear structure. There are advisories where there is no structure or purpose other than meeting on a regular basis. The heart of the advisory is the reflection on the learner's work and learning goals referring to their Personal Learning Plans. It is important to get advisories right and build these relationships around a purpose on a regular basis. In 2015, expect to see examples and models of advisory programs where learners meet with advisors everyday and in some cases twice a day. We will see an increase in advisory programs across the country.

Throughout 2015, we will be taking each one of these trends and elaborating on them in future posts. So expect some interesting posts around each of these concepts sprinkled with stories, examples and models. We encourage input from you and maybe can share some of your stories and journey. Contact us at and comment below. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Top 10 Blog Posts in 2014

What a year for us! Not only were we really busy writing our new book, Make Learning Personal, but you let us know what posts worked and what you would like to hear from us next. We listened. Some of our blog posts have gone viral because of you. In fact, the feedback we received helped us revise and update our PDI chart and Stages of PLEs to version 3. 

Here's a list of the top 10 posts in 2014:

1. 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015
   (we just added this post even though it is about 2015)

2. Stages of Personalized Learning Environments (v3)

6.  Schools without Classrooms

7.  Re-Imagined Learning Spaces for Media Centers

8.  UDL for All Learners

10. Continuum to Develop Expert Learners

Several of our most popular posts were guest posts. We realize there is so much to learn about personalized learning. We keep learning from you. So expect some interesting and insightful guest posts this coming year. 

Thank you for sharing your ideas and providing us feedback!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Access, Engage, and Express: The Lens for Teaching and Learning

Access, Engage, and Express (TM) is the lens for understanding how anyone learns best. The reason we came up with these three words was to help educators easily understand their learners using this lens. We want Access, Engage, and Express to be an integral part of their daily approach to teaching and learning.  Using Access, Engage and Express was developed from the Universal Design for Learning® (UDL) principles that are based on neuroscience and how we learn.

"UDL is the framework for Personalized Learning."

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed UDL based on how each learner is unique and has variability in their learning. Neuroscience takes into account how individuals bring a variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning. 

The three UDL principles:

We highly recommend you visit UDL Guidelines 2.0 and review the checkpoints. You will find extensive resources with each checkpoint that support each of the principles. After we reviewed and shared the principles with teachers, they got it and were appreciative for the rich resources. However, we realized teachers needed a clearer and practical way of applying the UDL principles in understanding their learners and, in turn, in designing their instruction the meet the needs of all learners. So, over two years ago, we came up with...
Access for Multiple Means of Representation
Engage for Multiple Means of Engagement
Express for Multiple Means of Action and Expressions
The biggest point we wanted to make was that this lens is for all learners. It is about teachers understanding how learners access information, engage with content, and express what they know and understand. We also used this lens for the learner to understand how they learn best. This lens validates the learner and it prompts conversations about their learning between the teacher and learner.

Think about yourself and how you access and process information. How do you transform information into useable knowledge? When we asked teachers this question, their answers were all different. Some told us they needed pictures that illustrated the text or written step-by-step instructions. Some said they needed to do their own research online. What about you? What about your learners? How do you think they best access information?

Next think about how you best engage with content. We are all different when it comes to how we are comfortable engaging with content. Some teachers told us they learned best by doing hands-on activities. Others stated they learned best by working alone and reflecting on their learning. Others needed to collaborate with others. What about you? Again think about your learners and how they best engage with content.

Now think how you express what you know and understand. Some people felt better writing down what they learned. Others felt better creating and building things that demonstrated what they learned. Even others stated they felt more comfortable presenting in front of others. What about you? How do you best express what you understand? 

All of this made it clear to us if we broke it down to practical terms, it would make sense to educators and learners as the lens. Easy to understand. Clear to use.  

Access, Engage, and Express (TM) 

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST.
Access, Engage, and Express is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC
Child image source:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Changing Perceptions - Every Child a Learner

Last year we posted a blog, "Learners not Students", that encouraged intensive discussions about why we should use the term 'learners' instead of 'students'. Many agreed that 'learner' is the appropriate term we need to use since we want every child to be recognized as a learner. An important question was raised in this discussion that we want to explore here:

"How do we create a school culture in which being a learner
is more valuable than being a student?"

Our current school culture rewards children when they are "good students." Children are considered good students when they follow directions, complete their homework, study for tests and earn good grades. The current culture often does not recognize or value when children are "good learners." Let's dive a little deeper into how we can begin to create a culture where all learners are valued.

"If you remove the veil of disability, you will see the learner."
Kathleen McClaskey

Discover the Learner in Every Child 

Schools have spent the last four decades labeling children who are considered not to be good students while developing our own perceptions of their capabilities. At the same time, many of these children compare themselves to other children and emphasize what they cannot do or perform. It is a natural behavior for children to compare themselves to others, all the time developing a perception that they are different and do not learn like other children. In fact, we often treat them differently by our words and actions. It does not take long for these children to develop their own perceptions that they are not learners, a stigma that sometimes lasts for years if not a lifetime.

Then how do we change our perceptions and their perceptions? 
How do we help every child see themselves as learners every day? 

First, we need to discover the learner in every child and how they learn best. One of the best ways to do that is to use the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) lens as part of the Personal Learner Profile to enable the teacher to understand how each learner needs and prefers to access information, engage with content and express what they know and understand.

Validate the Learner

The learner uses the UDL lens to share their strengths and challenges in learning, their preferences or needs to access, engage and express as well as their aspirations, talents and interests. At that moment when a learner is able to tell their story about how they learn with their teacher, the "partnership in learning" begins between the teacher and the learner. This opens the door for the teacher to have a conversation with the learner about learning goals, skills and strategies that the learner needs to work on to reduce any barriers and maximize learning. The undeniable outcome in using the UDL lens is that the learner has been validated as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone's education and will have a positive and profound impact for any learner. 

Create a School Culture that Values and Nurtures Every Learner

For learners to grow and flourish, we need to create learning environments where every child is recognized as a learner. A school culture that values every learner will empower them to discover the joy of learning. We need to create learning environments that...
  • guide learners to think deeply about their learning,
  • teach them how to make sense of their learning
  • help them set learning goals to support their learning,
  • understand the tools, resources and strategies each learner needs,
  • assist learners in developing the skills to be independent and self-directed, and
  • nurture their talents, interests and aspirations so they can realize their hopes and dreams. 


Consider this!

Tomorrow when you arrive in your classroom, envision every child as learner and then use the UDL lens to discover the learner in every child. Once you are aware of what each learner needs and how they prefer to learn, you are taking the first step in establishing a school culture where learners are valued and created.

To learn more about learners and using the UDL lens, read Chapter 2, Who are Your Learners?, in our newly published book "Make Learning Personal".

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)  Personal Learner Profile is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

If you missed the webinar: Make Learning Personal...

click on the image to go to the archive of the webinar from its Learning

Thank you Lisa Dubenard, Andy Ryff and David Hyde from its Learning for giving us this opportunity to share Make Learning Personal with the world and your audience! What a great webinar with around 100 people from around the world! We set up a backchannel in Twitter using #plearnchat and archived it for you here also:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Proving Performance vs. ImProving Learning

Chris Watkins' article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement, is about the relationship between learning in schools and performance in schools. Effective learners understand how they learn with strengths identified as metacognition, self-monitoring, and self-regulation. Learners vary orientations between learning and performance where there is a concern for proving (Performance) or improving (Learning) orientation. We adapted and summarized key components in Watkins’ research in the table located here. 

In his research, Watkins defines the term "learning" with a range of meanings. Most of us only know what we know about learning from our own experiences as a student: "being taught." Research in the 20th century highlighted learning as a change in knowledge through a process of knowledge construction. Watkins explains how the social context of learning as a shared phenomenon is important. Views of learning are present, yet he states about the long-standing culture of classrooms is "teaching is telling, learning is listening, knowledge is subject matter taught by teachers and found in books."

Watkins shares that in England and other countries including the United States, there has been a focus on performance tests for learners, performance ratings for schools, and performance management strategies for teachers. In most cases, teachers are held accountable and responsible for what learners learn. This is a concern from educators around the world "that managing teachers on the basis of such performance has lowered teacher morale" and led to some of our best and brightest to leave the profession. 

When a learner focuses on learning orientation, it means "the motivation to prove one's competence is immaterial without the motivation to improve one's competence." Watkins provides an instrument to determine one's learning orientation and compares how performance is achieved in other domains such as sports and business. 

Success in a competitive context is not defined by
a competitive attitude but a learning attitude.

The evidence in Watkins' research concludes that a focus on learning can enhance performance, where a focus on performance alone can depress performance. With traditional instruction, the climate in the classrooms becomes more performance oriented over years of schooling. 

A performance-oriented environment focuses on looking good rather than learning well.

The evidence in this research demonstrates that learning about learning is an educationally important strategy that improves performance. 


We highly recommend you to visit and download this article, Research Matters: Learning, Performance and Improvement. 

We are honored to know Chris Watkins, have learned so much from his research and encourage you to read and review his work around meta-learning along with all of his research at Watkins' site.  Read more on this post from Watkins: Making Sense of Learning.


Chris Watkins was a Reader Emeritus at the Institute of Education, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Faculty Member. Chris has been involved in projects with a range of schools on meta-learning and learning about learning, effective learning, classroom learning, and teachers and school learning. This work culminates in the idea of classrooms as learning communities. Since, 2005, Chris has been an independent consultant and project leader with a range of schools, mainly in the London area, but also way beyond London.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Learning Environment as the Third Educator

The Reggio Emilia approach is about having children seen as competent, resourceful, curious, imaginative, inventive and to possess a desire to interact and communicate with others. The environment invites learners to explore and discover on their own as teachers and parents observe and document the process.

The ’Reggio’ vision of the child as a competent learner has produced a strong child-directed curriculum model. The curriculum has purposive progression but not scope and sequence. Teachers follow the children’s interests and do not provide focused instruction in reading and writing. The Reggio approach has a strong belief that children learn through interaction with others, including parents, staff and peers in a friendly learning environment. The main concepts include:
  • The child as an active participant in learning.
    Learners are allowed to follow their own interests.
  • The significance of environment. The environment of the school is seen as the third educator, after the teacher and the parent.
  • The teacher, parent, and child as collaborators in the process of learning.
    The Reggio approach views the parent as an essential resource for their child’s learning.
  • Making learning visible. Teachers use a variety of documentation methods, such as cameras, digital recorders, and journals, to track children’s thoughts and ideas as they play together or work with materials.
Reggio approach is not a formal model with defined methods (such as Waldorf and Montessori), teacher certification standards and accreditation processes. But rather, the educators in Reggio Emilia speak of their evolving "experience" and see themselves as a provocation and reference point, a way of engaging in dialogue starting from a strong and rich vision of the child. In all of these settings, documentation was explored as a means of promoting parent and teacher understanding of children’s learning and development.

The ’Reggio Emilia’ approach was founded by Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994), at a city in northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. The ’Reggio’ approach was developed for municipal child-care and education programs serving children below six.  Reggio Emilia approach is now expanding across K-12 especially the Reggio influence on the design of the learning environment.

Want to learn more about Reggio Emilia?



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Make Learning Personal Press Release


Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why

Put learning back into the hands of the learner!

Amherst, NH, October 29, 2014 

Recognized authorities in personalized learning, with over three decades leading education innovation, co-authors Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey and co-founders of Personalize Learning, LLC, are on a mission to guide the transformation of schools to sustainable personalized learning environments. Their new book, Make Learning Personal, will create a powerful shift in classroom dynamics that guides all learners to become self-directed, self-monitoring, and self-motivated. Bray and McClaskey are passionate about transforming learning for all learners.

Their Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization chart became the foundation for building a common language around a belief system that focuses on the learner first. They developed a process using the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments that guides teachers as they dip their toes into personalized learning. These charts along with strategies, tools, examples, models, and learner's journeys are included in Make Learning Personal to provide a rich resource about learner-centered environments for teachers, administrators, parents, teacher education programs and learners. Make Learning Personal shares the latest research, models of personalized learning from around the world, and the strategies and tools to support the changing teacher and learner roles allowing any classroom, school, or district to successfully provide personalized learning for each learner.

"As an educator for more than 30 years, I have seen a myriad of ideas to improve education. Personalized learning could truly be the game-changer! Barbara and Kathleen have certainly done their homework in clearly defining what it means to personalize learning. They identify stages that can help teachers gradually adapt their role, moving from a teacher-centered classroom to a learner-driven environment. This book will serve as a valuable handbook as educators make the decision to empower their learners!"
Betty Wottreng, Director of Technology Services, Verona Area School District, WI

About the Authors

Barbara Bray is a Creative Learning Strategist who believes now is the time to transform teaching and learning. She is on a quest to facilitate change and design personalized learning environments.

Kathleen McClaskey is a Universal Design for Learning consultant, innovative leader and visionary in education who has been on a mission the last three decades to level the playing field for all learners.

Go to Corwin’s page
If you are interested in a bulk purchase for your school or district, contact Amelia Arias at, 805-410-7149

Pam Lowe, Marketing Associate, Personalize Learning, LLC
For more information, go to or email


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Play-Based Personalized Learning: The Walker Learning Approach

The Walker Learning Approach (WLA) is an Australian-designed teaching and learning approach (pedagogy) that authentically personalizes learning and is developmentally and culturally appropriate. Learning is real, relevant, and meaningful for all children regardless of their age, culture, family context, socioeconomic background, or geographical position. 

The Walker Learning Approach has been developed over twenty years using an action research model. The Walker Learning Approach is the first pedagogy to be designed for Australian schools, successfully providing teaching and learning that
  • personalizes and engages learners in active learning alongside explicit and formalized instruction.
  • is culturally and developmentally appropriate across all demographic regions of the country, from remote indigenous communities to elite independent schools.
The pedagogical platform places the child at the center and uses developmental psychology, biology, and neurology alongside cultural and environmental influences as the basis for practical application across the Australian setting. Developmental psychology in recent years has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by some aspects of the educational academic forum with the assumption that the Piagetian model of a lockstep, monocultural stage (“norm”) of developmental milestones prevails.

How do we facilitate the work of youth as self-directed producers and learners?

This is not what developmental psychology in the twenty-first century purports, nor does it represent the platform of the Walker Learning Approach. Developmental psychology recognizes key elements of genetic predisposition; assists in areas of temperament and personality; informs greatly in areas of brain development and stimulation; is cross-cultural; and informs in key areas including motivation, engagement, behavior, development, cognitive function, learning, and areas requiring intervention. It works alongside recognition of the influences of culture, environment, health, nutrition, and exposure and opportunity. The need to integrate and work in tandem with the empirical evidence of science, psychology, neuropsychology, and cultural influences on learning is critical, and the WLA does just that.

The Walker Learning Approach is an exciting and refreshing philosophy that places the child at the center of the curriculum and teaching strategies; it ensures authentic personalized learning. It is based on decades of research on play-based and personalized learning and social constructivism. It is not a program or an inquiry model sitting discreetly or separately from other curriculum areas. It is a total approach to teaching and learning that combines the need for children to be active participants in their learning through hands-on and creative exploration and investigation that sits alongside formal instruction. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Re-Imagined Learning Spaces for Media Centers

Shifting Roles for Media Coordinators and New Functions for Media Centers in Buncombe County Schools, Asheville, NC

Guest Post by John Parker, Digital Learning Specialist for Buncombe County Schools by day

John has served as a teacher and school library media coordinator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. A seasoned staff developer and presenter, John prefers the role of facilitation and working with groups. When not dreaming about possibilities and plans John can be found exploring technology and Tweeting as The School Library and Media Guy, @TheSlamGuy

Buncombe County Schools has embarked on a journey that is designed to transform our school library media centers into flexible learning spaces that are earmarked by designs that encourage choice and voice for our students. At the core of this endeavor is a focus on access and the ability to create, make, and produce items that reflect students’ interests.

After a year of observing, talking and listening to administrators, media coordinators and teachers across the district, we began seeding some Raspberry Pi and Arduino microcomputers into a few schools that were already redefining their programs. These programmable devices were provided without detailed instruction or professional development—media centers were encouraged to make them available for use. Some jumped at the opportunity, others did not.

Those on the leading edge took off quickly, but the others asked many questions that helped to develop a focus and a strategy that could be employed K-12. Three assumptions emerged from our learning that have become guiding principles:

Our traditional model of school libraries does not adequately support the North Carolina Standards and the way our staff and learners want to work.
  • The curriculum is filled with broadly defined learning goals
  • Learners need more access to information at a time convenient to them
  • Everyone wants to work and learn in new ways

The standards measuring media coordinator (school librarian) performance now promote activities that reflect an emphasis on a new role.
  • Demonstrate leadership.
  • Build a learning environment that meets the instructional needs of a diverse population of students.
  • Implement a comprehensive 21st Century library media program
  • Demonstrate knowledge of learners and learning and promote effective instructional practices.
  • Reflect on our practice.

Student achievement demands that we connect our activity to student outcomes.
  • We must abandon isolated tasks not connected to the curriculum
  • We aspire to create a culture of inquiry that doesn’t end with the school day

We operationalized these statements with a succinct goal statement: We want to create a Four-C-Able Space for the Foreseeable Future. It is based on the four Cs of 21st Century learning.
  1. Creativity
  2. Collaboration
  3. Communication
  4. Critical Thinking

As a first step, we began with ideas and used them to define the space. Searching questions such as “What types of activity will define this flexible space?” were used to escape the constraints of the physical space and get beyond our own set of normal limitations. To further refine the process, more specific questions were used and generated by the media coordinators. Careful attention was paid to the alignment of these questions with our guiding principles. Some questions that emerged were
  • What features should be incorporated to improve the ability to use resources?
  • What features need to be added to support project-based activity?
  • What types of specialized software or hardware should be available? What is available?
  • What new types of furniture might you need to add or replace?
  • What space(s) are you underusing?
  • What other questions do we need to ask?
  • What can you do tomorrow?

Afterwards, the activities were used to create an activity map for each media center that later identified components of those spaces and finally located them within the larger space. The media coordinators then conducted a school-based focus group and revised the plan according to stakeholder input. After negotiated outcomes and revisions, a road map for implementation was created that included measurable goals and even a budget timeline in some instances.

The process yielded plans, but it also enabled people to view their roles differently in light of best practices and their learners. To be sure, the change has not been easy, and some have limited participation, but there is excitement in being part of something that has the capacity to change teaching and learning in every school, child, and home in our county. We believe that those long standing library principles of choice and voice have received an appropriate makeover.

Thank you John and all the media coordinators in Buncombe County for sharing your journey to create flexible learning spaces that encourage learners to discover, explore, play, and personalize their learning their way!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Updated Report Version 3: Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization

Since we updated the Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization or what we call the PDI chart recently, we needed to update the report that details each of the sections of the chart.  We made that available for you to download at or can view via our slideshare.

Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization Report-v3 from Barbara and Kathleen

If you have already signed up to our newsletter, you were sent another place to download all of the updated resources including this report at the bottom of the last few newsletters.

We look forward to your feedback and hope this helps you as you personalize learning and transform teaching and learning!

Barbara and Kathleen

Thursday, September 4, 2014

So what does Personalized Learning really mean?

After writing the post Who's Framed Personalized Learning? and receiving so much feedback, we realized we needed to go back to what is the meaning of personalized learning. So we wanted to clarify from all of the research we have been doing for our book, Make Learning Personal, why personalized learning starts with the learner. 

We refer to "students" as "learners" where...

  • Learning starts with the learner.
  • Universal Design for Learning is the framework for personalized learning.
  • Teachers universally-design lessons and projects that encourage voice and choice.
  • Learners understand how they learn best.
  • Learners take responsibility for their learning.
  • Learners own and drive their learning along their learning path.
  • Teachers and learners roles change.
  • Teachers and learners are partners in learning who design authentic learning activities.
  • Learners demonstrate mastery in a competency-based system and progress at their own pace.

Personalized Learning is not just a term. It is not about the semantics behind the words; it is about the perception of what it means to be a learner. It is really about ownership of learning that we wrote about in an earlier post with Chris Watkins, Making Sense of Learning. Shelley Wright also shared how important ownership is to learning in her post, Ownership as a Framework for Learning. Shelley shared three questions that every learner in the class needed to answer as their framework to own their learning:
  1. What are you going to learn?
  2. How are you going to learn it?
  3. How are you going to show me your learning?
Consider these questions with all learners all ages. Even you as a learner can use these questions to own and drive your learning. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Who's Framed Personalized Learning?

Do you know what framing is? It is like spinning a tale and using a term the way you, an organization, or policy makers want the term to be represented. Well, "Personalized Learning" has been framed. In a way that is making educators skeptical of its use and what it means.

Who's ultimately responsible for the learner learning?

Benjamin Riley started this new buzz by questioning what Personalization is in his blog post, "Don't Personalize Learning" where he stated that according to Bransford (author of How People Learn), students don't have the requisite knowledge schemas to effectively self-direct their learning. However, we went back to several theorists and one in particular, Lev Vygotsky, whose theories are the foundation of personalized learning.Vygotsky believed that mental tools extend our mental abilities, enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the real world. This means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind. After children master mental tools, they become in charge of their own learning, by attending and remembering in an intentional and purposeful way.

The idea behind this is that learning is personal. It starts with the learner. Personalizing learning is not something someone or something does to a learner. To really learn and understand what learners are going to learn or how they learn, they need to be motivated to want to learn. They need to know how they learn best They have to have a stake in their learning.  The conversations have strayed from the basic intent of personalization to believing that learners cannot own or drive their learning. Since then the idea and term "Personalized Learning" has been hijacked. Companies are very good at framing their programs as personalized learning. Textbook companies promote their curriculum with pacing guides. Be aware of who is framing their story around "personalized learning."

Traditional classrooms involve teachers directing instruction and being responsible and accountable for what learners learn. The curriculum tends to be fixed. Teachers are told they need to "cover" the curriculum. Learners have no stake in what they are learning if teachers are the ones accountable for the learning. Grades may be the only motivation: extrinsic motivation. The focus is usually on the curriculum and teaching; not the learner and how they learn best.

So what do learners want and need to learn? What motivates them to want to learn? We asked Kathleen Cushman who shared the 8 Universal Secrets of Motivated Learners. What they learn has to matter to them; it needs to challenge and stretch them. When they are challenged and have the skill level to do a task and are motivated to learn something, they are engaged in their learning. Teachers encourage learners to have a voice in their learning and a choice in how they learn. To do this, the learning environment changes. Teaching changes. This does not happen overnight but as with our Stages of Personalized Learning Environments chart, teachers can dip their toes into personalized learning one step at a time.

Our book, Make Learning Personal, has stories from teachers and learners who have changed their teaching and learning. Many teachers that partner with their learners and changed how they teach told us they would never go back to traditional teaching. So we decided to ask a few of our friends what they think about framing personalized learning:
"Personalized learning primarily involves changing the role of a child from a passive-oriented student to an active-oriented learner. Any process, practice, system or initiative which labels itself 'personalized,' but does not change the role of the learner to have more voice and choice in their own learning isn't fully personalized.  Much of what is being categorized as personalized learning today involves technology integration and enhancements in the role of the teacher, without necessarily empowering the learner to discover, follow and cultivate their own passions and take an ever-increasing role for the privilege and responsibility of learning." 
Bryan Bronn, Principal, Branson Junior High , Branson, MO

"I believe that true personalized learning comes from an organic interest in a child's mind and heart and then a freedom to let this interest reach it's full potential.  It is the guiding of a child's natural curiosity to seek and explore their world as an independent, self-motivated learner.  Personalized learning can only flourish when an educator lets go of the "control" of knowledge.  Furthermore, the notion that guidelines and time frames are needed also must be put to rest.  When true personalized learning occurs in the younger years it is hard to distinguish learning and play as they become one in the same to a child's eye.  Learners no longer speak the vocabulary of "subjects" but rather of interests and new discoveries.  Personalized learning is the shift from the teacher asking, "How can I teach you this?" to the learner saying, "I GOT THIS!" 
Lisa Welch, K-1 co-teacher, KM Explore, Wales, WI

"I've been seeing the recent blog posts about this and I am glad you are working on a post to provide some clarification. It is been bothering me so much that the term is being hijacked and the meaning distorted, which has resulted in some very harsh criticism of a particular learning model that really isn't personalization but is being labeled as such. 
Personalization should not be a buzzword. Personalization can be achieved without technology.  Personalization is about meeting learners where they are and helping them develop the skills to become self-driven learners.  It isn't just about a personalized pace through a prescribed curriculum -- it's also about enabling and empowering students to collaborate with a teacher or learning coach (and peers and parents and others) to also develop their own personalized pathways through learning that includes so much more than just the prescribed curriculum." 
Stephanie Sandifer, Director, Strategic Operations at June Labs, TX 

"Personalizing learning requires the learner to participate in all levels of the learning process - from idea generation, to planning activities and resources, to designing assessments and performances of learning and understanding. Of course, learners who have been in the old paradigm of instruction have skills they need to acquire in order to do this well and make the learning their own process.  Learners needs guidance and tools to do begin to personalize their learning process and then own it.  It takes practice and repetition to learn and then be able to transfer those skills to other interests and concepts. Tech companies are jumping on the "tool" side of this process and their are many effective tools being used and developed for learners to personalize how they go about acquire knowledge and constructing understanding. 
Those of us working with learners who are participating in learning that meets their goals and dreams need to be very careful with the use of our vocabulary on a daily basis. Differentiating between personalized learning tools, such as ePortfolio formats or systems, and developing a personalized approach in a learning environment are two very different things. Personalized learning environments needs structures and tools that learners can use to make their learning relevant and meaningful to them. Learners need to help design those environments and to help select the tools that they need."  
Caroline Camara, HS Science Teacher, Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School, VT

From everything we see and read and learn about teachers changing roles and learners having a voice in their learning, the environment changes. Teaching changes. The results are learners taking responsibility for their learning. Teachers are still essential and valuable. Teachers become partners with their learners by creating a learning environment that encourages curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. Then you will see that learners of all ages can self-direct their learning. All of us just need to keep telling and sharing stories.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Updated Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization Chart Version 3

Personalization v Differentiation v Individualization (PDI) Chart (Version 3) 

The PDI chart was created for a reason: to clarify the differences in these terms. In 2010, the National Ed Tech Plan defined all three of these terms as they are related to instruction. We needed to emphasize the differences: Personalization is learner-centered. The other two, Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. Personalization or Personalized Learning means the learner is driving their learning. When the learner takes responsibility for their learning, teaching and learning changes. The roles of the teacher and learner change. We welcome you to share the PDI chart and use it for action research, professional learning, and to go deeper and clarify the terms so learning is deeper, relevant, and engaging.

It has been some time since we initially published the PDI Chart in January 2012. Version 2 was a revision nine months ago about the differences between these three terms distinguishing that personalization begins with the learner who drives and owns their learning. The other terms are teacher-centered where the teacher provides the instruction, support, and assessments for the learners.

We updated the chart again to version 3 from your feedback. Through discussions in our 5 W's of Personalized Learning eCourse and the Six Steps to Personalize Learning workshop, participants helped us realize that we were not clear in the chart about assessment. We needed to focus on Assessment AS, FOR, and OF Learning.
  • Individualization involves assessment OF learning. This is where summative assessment is grade-based and involves testing to confirm what learners know and do not know.
  • Differentiation involves assessment FOR learning and OF learning. This assessment involves time-based testing where teachers provide feedback to advance learning.
  • Personalization involves assessment AS learning, FOR learning, and a minimal OF learning. This is where teachers develop capacity so learners become independent learners who set goals, monitor progress and reflect on learning. Assessments are based on mastery.

We ask if you plan to make multiple copies of this chart or use it in a publication that you ask us permission via our email at

Please spread the word about this version of this chart. Share the ways you are using this chart in the comments below and in social media. Our Twitter hashtag is #plearnchat.

The more we learn from you, the more we learn and then want to share back with you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Schools without Classrooms

Vittra: International Schools in Sweden
Vittra is more than a model; it is a design that is being used around Sweden.

Vittra gives every individual the opportunity…
  • to find the best approach for them Children play and learn on the basis of their needs, curiosity and inclination in the best ways possible.
  • to learn based on experience
    Children’s learning is based on their experience which increases motivation and inspires creativity.
  • to understand their own learning
    Children are equipped with the tools to acquire new knowledge and increase understanding of ‘How I learn’, which enables them to learn more easily and effectively in the future.
  • to have faith in themselves and their abilities
    Children become more self-aware, aware of their strengths and potential for development which means they dare and like to be challenged.
  • to develop their ability to communicate and engage in respectful interaction with others
    Children understand and are considerate to the needs and interests of others, they can express and stand for their own views as well as take responsibility for their actions.
  • to be equipped for study and work in an international environmentChildren develop effective bilingualism in English and Swedish while experiencing and creating international contacts through networks and exchange programs abroad.
Architect Rosan Bosch designed the school to encourage both independent and collaborative work such as group projects and PBL. Even the furniture is meant to encourage learning. Bosch says each piece is meant to “aid students in engaging” while working.

Vittra runs 30 schools in Sweden and wants learning to take place everywhere in its schools, so it threw out the "old-school" thinking of straight desks in a line in a four-walled classroom. They eliminated all of its classrooms in favor of an environment that fosters children’s "curiosity and creativity."
The un-schoolness doesn’t stop with the furniture and layout. 
The schools are non-traditional in every sense: there are no letter grades and learners learn in groups at their level, not necessarily by age. Admission to the school is free, as long as the child has a personal number (like a social security number) and one of the child’s parents is a Swedish taxpayer.
Vittra opened Telefonplan School, in Stockholm where Architect Rosan Bosch designed the school so children could work independently in opened-spaces while lounging, or go to "the village" to work on group projects. All of the furniture in the school, which looks like a lot of squiggles, is meant to aid learners in engaging in conversations while working on projects. 
Telefonplan has Five Learning Spaces:
  1. The Cave – a space for private concentration to concentrate and enter an introspective process of communication with yourself.
  2. The Lab – fun with experimentation and practical work where you can discover and explore colors, shapes and materials at different workshops using lab trolleys that make the labs flexible.
  3. The Camp Fire – the group process is one of the most important learning situations because learning is a social process. Children need spaces for large as well as small groups. The groups don’t have to be in a closed off area but should be a space where the group can focus.
  4. The Watering Hole – a place for encounters and impulses as a lively space full of activity where learners can drop in for a while and then move on.
  5. The Showoff – where learners can show off their progress and discoveries. A stage, a presentation, a drawing on the wall, a film or a blog – all ways of showing off their work.
Vittra schools reach kindergarten through twelfth grades. So why do we say "schools without classrooms?" One thing is clear from Vittra is that opening the walls, moving furniture or changing the furniture  and allowing flexible places encourages creativity. It works for all ages.

Have some fun visiting Telefonplan! Just watch and you will get a tour in English..

Monday, April 28, 2014

Making Sense of Learning

School is supposed to be about how learners are learning, but the conversations do not seem to be focused on “learning.”  The focus tends to be on instruction and performance. Chris Watkins participates in the Campaign for Learning’s ‘Learning to Learn’ project and wrote “Learning: a sense-makers guide”, a publication commissioned by ATL, the union for education professionals across the UK. The idea of starting with the learner is all about learning about learning and noticing how we learn.

Learning can make sense and is similar to how we make sense of other things. We do it gradually through experiences and building knowledge as we go. Talking, thinking, and reflecting about learning are the key factors to understanding. In the sense-makers guide, Watkins writes that there are four teaching practices that can help learners make sense of their learning:

  1. Notice learning
    Getting in the flow is when learners are engaged in the process. You can see them motivated and immersed in the learning. This is a great time to stop the flow. Really! Ask your learners to step back and notice what happened, what we did to make it happen, what the effects were, how it felt, what helped, how learners were persistent in making it happen, and what might they do with the learning. You might even pick up some new language by noticing the learning that just happened.
  2. Have conversations about learning
    Listen to the conversations. You can ask learners to pair or work in groups of three or four and discuss what they noticed in their learning. You can prompt them to reflect on why were doing something that maybe thing might not even know or take for granted. Some questions you can prompt them to ask could be:

    Why we did _____   yesterday?
    Did we find out anything new?
    How can we find out more?
  3. Reflect on your learning
    Reflection is personal and can be in a personal journal or shared in a blog. Reflection helps you notice your learning because you think about it when you write. When you are writing your reflections, new ideas may come to you or you may notice more about your learning you never knew before.
  4. Make learning an object of learning
    You can learn about learning while you are learning about something else. When you have your learners read and experiment to learn something, you can have them notice and reflect on what they learned and how they learned. You could have them reflect on how they handled their feelings during the learning or how they engaged with others as they learned. This is called the cycle of learning.

When you see learners noticing and reflecting on their learning during their learning, that is the Wow of learning. This is the higher-order thinking skills we want our children to adopt: learning about learning and thinking about learning. This makes learning visible. This is what shakes up the classroom dynamics, because when the teacher is lecturing, learners are supposed to be listening. Are they? When you shake up the learning so learning is visible and learners are talking about their learning, the classroom environment is different. This change is the culture shift, the change that learners want now.

Changing culture is big. Now is the time.

Chris Watkins is a researcher at The Institute of Education, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Faculty Member. Chris has been involved in projects with a range of schools on learning about learning, effective learning, classroom learning, teachers' learn and school learning. This work culminates in the idea of classrooms as learning communities. Since 2005, Chris has been an independent consultant and project leader with a range of schools, mainly in the London area, but also way beyond London.  We highly recommend visiting Chris' Academia.u site where he uploads his work.