Sunday, January 5, 2014

10 Trends for Personalized Learning in 2014

2014 is the year for Personalized Learning to take center stage in national and international discussions. The buzz is out. Yet, the information around personalized learning is still confusing. This new year will be the year that defines the term where we focus on the learner first. The Top 10 Trends for Personalized Learning in 2014 are that more educators will:

1. Change the Language to Learner NOT Student
This is going to be the year people start changing their definition of the learner. "Learner NOT Student!All of us are learners. Think about it. We were born curious and open to learning or we wouldn't walk or talk. It's just how each of us were made. Learning is part of us. We were not born students -- we were born learners. Our first experiences of learning were through play and discovery. 

The term "student" implies someone who is enrolled in an educational institution. Yet, to be a lifelong learner, learning happens anywhere, at anytime. So make this year the year you consciously change the term of student to "learner." Read more...

2. Build a Common Language
Everyone in a school or district needs to be on the same page about what personalized learning means before moving forward and making costly purchasing decisions. There are companies promoting apps, tools, and systems that personalize the learning for the learner -- but, this is the year that we will see teachers and learners pulling together around their kids. It is all about focusing on the learner -- starting with the learner, not technology. We updated the Personalization v Differentiation v Individualization chart to version 3 which has been getting lots of press. Use this chart to help build a common language in your school or district. 

You will see more teachers sharing stories of kids taking control of their learning. We will be writing more about these stories and asking kids and teachers to join us in webinars and even guest post on our site. You will also see teachers at more conferences sharing what teaching and learning looks like when kids take ownership of their learning. We will be at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta with some amazing teachers from Verona Area Schools and plan to write a post about their program soon.

3. Connect the Dots
This will be the year that schools will get it that Personalizing Learning is not a new initiative or one more thing that their district is adding on to their plate. This is the year that teachers and all stakeholders will work together to connect the dots under the umbrella of Personalized Learning. Personalized Learning is not a fad and is here to stay. Teams of educators will plan together in small and large groups at their school, at faculty meetings, at parent meetings, and as a district to see how specific initiatives are implemented to consider when starting with the learner. It means looking at the current system with an open mind. What would certain programs look like if the teacher was more of a facilitator and learners self-regulated their learning?

We provided an example how Response to Intervention (RtI) fits under the Personalized Learning umbrella as Response to Learning (RtL). Read more...

4. Plan First
To transform a system that has been in existence for over hundred years, expect it to take time and a process to change it. We are seeing too many districts jumping in and writing strategic plans that are adding personalized learning as another initiative. When you change teacher and learner roles, so the focus is on the learner and the learner drives their learning, everything changes (see post on teacher and learner roles]. You cannot do this without getting everyone on board or, at least, so everyone agrees what it will mean to change these roles. Personalized learning is embedded throughout the plan.

The only way to do that is to build in the language, the dots, and talk about it everywhere. Then build a shared vision where skeptics have a chance to voice their concerns. Invite learners to share their point of view. They have concerns, too. Questions they have asked us: "when you personalize learning, what happens to grades? How will we learn how to drive our own learning?" So get them involved with all key stakeholders and take the time to develop a vision and plan that starts with the learner.

"Personalized learning, by whatever name, is an essential
principle for a transformed education system."
Dr. John Bordeaux

5. Watch Out for Shiny Objects
Technology does make it easier to personalize learning, but learners can take control of their learning with or without it. You see, it is all about changing teacher and learner roles. You can give each learner an iPad or tablet, but teachers can still teach in a teacher-directed environment. We have seen teachers using an interactive whiteboard just like they did with their chalkboard. This does not change teaching and learning. Technology and social media grab us - and we're hooked, but are they personalizing learning?

[Source: Unearthed Comics,

It is so easy to get caught up in the lure of technology and believe the marketing from companies who state that their product is the only way to personalize learning or improve student achievement. This is going to be the year that schools and districts involve teachers and learners in purchasing decisions.

So think about technology tools supporting anytime and anywhere learning. This will push learning to be more personal and learners to think deeper on their own. Yes, there will be more technology and shiny objects to choose from this next year.

The main questions to ask and research...
How do we change teacher and learner roles?
How do we support teachers as they change their roles?
Will this technology support new teacher and learner roles?
How will learners acquire the skills to choose and use the appropriate resources?

6. Encourage Learner Voice and Agency
2014 is the year to look at learner voice and why it matters for all learners. Learner voice gives learners a chance to share their opinions about something they believe in. There are so many aspects of "school" and "learning" where learners have not been given the opportunity to be active participants. Giving them voice encourages them to participate in their own learning. According to Eric Toshalis and Michael Nakkula in their report, Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice from Students at the Center, "Without voice, there is no authenticity in the learning."

"Learner agency is characterized by a pedagogy that builds on the passions of learners and also has real world relevance. We are seeing numerous examples of this in our schools, and the school structure is also beginning to change to accommodate this transition. Schools are adopting more flexible schedules, new and more personalized methods of reporting are being adopted, and examples of hands-on experiences from outdoor learning to community business partnerships are flourishing. Many do see learner agency as being key to the future of schooling."
Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools, West Vancouver, British Columbia
This year, teachers will devise multiple ways to give learners their voice in lesson design, to ask them how and what they want to learn, to interview them about their learning, to encourage them to participate in class discussions, to choose the appropriate tools for anytime and anywhere learning, and to invite them to reflect on their learning. - Read more 

7. Provide Opportunities for Choice so Learners Own and Drive their Learning
Learning IS personal. When you believe you have a stake in your learning and own your learning, you are more motivated to want to learn. The best thing we can do for our learners is to teach them to learn how to learn and how to think about their thinking. Now with anytime and anywhere learning, learners will need to acquire the skills to choose the most appropriate resources and tools for any task.

Shelley Wright, high school educator and coach in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, played around with what it was like to have her learners teach each other using feedback loops. They discussed what worked; what didn't work, and what they would do different next time. Learners loved doing case studies such as trying to solve a real medical problem. They had ownership in their learning because they chose the problem, selected the resources to find solutions, and collaborated on how to solve the problem.

A big part of choice in encouraging learners to own and drive their learning is the Maker movement. Tinkering and making things helps learners make sense of their learning. Consider creating a Makerspace in your school. Just imagine what can happen and be built by you. In fact, keep your eye on 3D printers and how they will be bigger and doing amazing things in 2014.

8. Encourage Intrinsic Motivation
All of us as learners need to feel motivated to learn. It cannot just be about getting a grade on an assignment. Especially if that assignment is not relevant to the learner. A personal connection or a real-world issue that means something to the learner can make all the difference to whether we care about an academic task. Offering a choice on some aspect of the work also sends its value up, and so does the chance to work on things with friends. From constructing a model to collaborating on a puzzle, we start to “own” new information when our hands and minds engage our thinking processes more full. These ideas on motivation and more are from Kathleen Cushman who shared with us the 8 Universal Secrets of Motivated Learners.
To see and hear from Kathleen how these eight conditions play out in six highly motivating classrooms, join us in a free webinar on January 21st at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT in our Blackboard Collaborate room or go to our webinar series page.

9. See more Competency-Based Systems
Roger Cook, Superintendent of Taylor County Schools in Kentucky shared with us how performance-based systems kept kids in school because they were motivated to learn what they were interested in when they wanted to learn it. He explained that there are well over three hundred elementary learners taking middle school content with over five hundred high school credits earned by middle school learners. There are some fifth graders taking high school algebra for high school credit and high school seniors graduating with enough college hours to be mid-term sophomores in college.  Read more about performance-based systems... 

We asked Fred Bramante to define competency-based systems for us. He shared "a two-tiered strategy, both top-down and bottom-up. The top-down part is that you change the state regulations. You take out time requirements: 180 days, etc. and put in competency-based regulations that make learning flexible. I always tell people you mandate flexibility which is an oxymoron. You make it so that the regulations pass much of the control of who owns the system from the system to the parents and the kids. And then, the bottom-up part is that you have to make so that the kids and parents actually know what's inside the regulations, know that they don't have to do it the way they've always done it.  When the kids know that they have options that are fun and exciting, they will take advantage of this type of flexibility and more and more kids will start taking." Read more what competency-based is all about

10. Start Small and Take the Time You Need To Make it Work
All of us as teachers only know what we know or what we were taught. Another thing that is good to know is that we don't always know what we don't know. After reading our posts and other resources about starting with the learner, we hope you now know more about personalizing learning and that turning the learning over so kids own their learning just doesn't happen overnight.

We created the Stages of Personalized Learning Environments for a reason. We saw teachers jumping in and turning over the learning to their learners before they were ready. Some things worked. Some didn't. If you feel comfortable teaching direct instruction and being in control, then letting go will be tough for you. But if you start slow, you can test the waters one lesson at a time. The Stages give you a roadmap.

Stage One is teacher-centered with learner voice and choice.
Stage Two is learner-centered with teacher as guide.
Stage Three is learner-driven where teacher and learner are partners in learning.

The focus on personalizing learning changed so much since our predictions last year. More educators are seeing why it is important to personalize learning by starting with the learner. Consider...
  1. Taking one lesson at a time.
  2. Adding more time to a specific activity that engages your learners so you do not stop the flow of learning.
  3. Asking for your learners' ideas on how they would like to express what they know.
  4. Encouraging your learners to reflect on their learning.

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