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.