Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scaling Personalized Learning

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

What Will It Take to Scale Personalized Learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Personalize Learning on the Dr. Will Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Dr. Will!!

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

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Discover EPiC - Re-Imagine Education

Personalized Learning model by Michelle Schmitz, Principal and Susan Maynor, Learning Coach

EPiC Elementary in Liberty Public Schools, Missouri is an innovative, personalized, project-based learning community infused with technology designed to INSPIRE learners to be CREATIVE and THINK BIG! Learners use REAL tools and REAL materials to collaboratively construct REAL world applications of their knowledge. Our learning environment focuses on three areas for all learners: Equipping Learners, Engaging Communities, and Empowering Creativity.

Empower Creativity
EPIC provides a learning environment where students discover, embrace, and integrate authentic learning experiences to create and design real-world applications of their knowledge.  
Equip Students
EPIC provides a learning environment through a personalized education where learners become collaborators, critical and creative thinkers, and communicators.

Engage Communities
EPIC provides a learning environment where learners, families, educators, and experts are fully engaged in authentic learning experiences designed to inspire kids.

Empowering Creativity with Real Tools
We believe that learning happens all the time, anywhere. EPiC’s learning environment includes 1:1 iPads, flexible learning spaces, community partnerships, personalized learning paths, and real world work. To deepen that experience for all learners, each studio has created a unique learning lens within our larger learning community.
Studio K: We are Builders
Studio 1: We are Leaders
Studio 2: We are Storytellers
Studio 3: We are Connectors
Studio 4: We are Changemakers
Studio 5: We are Designers
It is our goal for all learners to become expert learners, therefore as a part of this community, they have the opportunity to be active in their own learning process. Children seek to understand how they learn best and begin to design own learning opportunities, scaffolding experiences to provide purpose and drive for learning.

Our Story

In the spring of 2013, Liberty Public Schools began exploring possibilities for re-imagining education. Creativity is a huge driving force in the economics of the future, but where in our current educational system, are we allowing the time and space for creativity? When we walked into our classrooms, did we see a difference between the 1980’s and today’s classroom? Were our learners “dialing down” when they entered school? And if creativity really is a key driver of the economy, what skills do our learners need to be successful? We formed a 20/20 Vision Innovations Team, comprised of administrators, teachers, parents, and board members to begin seeking answers to these questions. We crossed the country and visited highly successful, innovative schools. We tapped into experts, read research and investigated different school models, ultimately discovering effective environments that empowered learners to learn. Real tools. Authentic audiences. Projects with meaning. Personalized learning. As our team began to assimilate what we had learned, we began to reimagine education for our students in Liberty. How could we step outside the box and incorporate our new learning to create a different kind of school?
"Every Person Inspired to Create, hence the acronym EPiC, was born. EPiC is not just a school, but rather an idea, a philosophy, a journey for every person. So what does that look like in a school? How will we infuse this idea into each and every day? We believe that children learn in different ways and at different paces. Moreover, we also believe it is essential that all our learners are engaged at a deep level of learning. And we know that learning becomes real when students are able to take their learning beyond the classroom walls and engage with parents and community experts.
EPiC re-imagines education by encouraging the in-depth exploration of topics as students participate in the adventures of learning. Our learners apply their new knowledge by creating and exhibiting their own learning to multiple audiences. Learners engage in daily personalized learning--learning at their own level, leveraging the power of quality adaptive technology platforms and learner voice and choice. Through project-based learning and dynamic teacher instruction, EPiC learners will explore real challenges and create solutions and share in front of authentic audiences.

Our Personalized Learning Model
Epic Elementary is on a journey to inspire change in education, encouraging educators to re-think, re-frame and re-imagine education. The teachers and learners are a catalyst to help people SEE that change is GOOD. Matching the learners experience to the outside world is necessary and ENGAGING the learner is IMPERATIVE! We believe we can no longer deliver education the same way that we did yesterday, as learners need to experience their learning at their own pace with their talents. Isn’t that life? Don’t we walk through experiences everyday, solving challenges using our own strengths? For years, we made students sit in a seat and use one model to solve fake challenges. Does this set our learners up for success? If we are truly preparing our learners to be successful in life for now and the future, we need to allow them to develop their strengths in a personalized way.
As we harness the power of technology in a learner-facilitated environment, personalized learning permeates our everyday. Developing a personalized mindset is definitely a learning continuum for our lead learners at EPiC. We know that personalized environment is optimal for our learners; we are still growing as lead learners in that direction. Depending on the time of the day and the content, you can see personalization, differentiation and individualization. Our school is becoming a transformative plac for both the teacher and the learners. As learners are able to participate in more personalized learning opportunities, they desire to have a more innovative personalized learning environment. The learners experience success and are able to show their learning through their strengths.

First Grade Learners Designing a Health Fair website
Wow moments are not landmarks that define our journey but are built into every moment of everyday. Wow moments are all the time and are transformative for both teachers and learners. A wow moment is when any student “can.” If we give children the opportunities to show learning through their strength area, the growth is more authentic and runs deeper than a prescribed assessment.

Learners are able to talk using academic and expert vocabulary, taking information and transforming it in more complex ways in the context of the real world. Learners of all levels are no longer isolated or defined by their inefficiencies or efficiencies, but rather are able to follow personalized pathways for learning.
Recently, several of our learners wanted to create a short film for the White House Film Festival. Working as a team, facilitated by a teacher, learners wrote, directed and edited a short film, all while tapping into their own individual strengths, infusing expert cinematic techniques and experiencing an authentic production process.

We have the ability to transform education as we know it, with every person who is a part of EPiC. We are changing mindsets. Our learners embrace the growth mindset -- "I can do it! There is no ceiling on my learning. I can show my learning in a way that is best for me."


Dr. Michelle Schmitz is a passionate elementary principal who is re-imagining and rethinking education to meet the needs of today’s learner.  Dr. Schmitz has been a teacher for 10 years and an administrator for 10 years.  Dr. Schmitz has earned her advanced degrees at University of St. Louis.  

Twitter: @mschmitz_1

Susan Maynor is a visual storyteller, design enthusiast, and creativity devotee on a quest to rethink education for all learners. She has taught elementary through high school, been a curriculum consultant, and produced various media for small companies. She currently serves as the blended learning coach for EPiC Elementary.

Twitter: @shmaynor

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Inquiry-based PBL and PL: #plearnchat 2/9/15

Every other Monday at 7pm ET, we host #plearnchat. We want to thank everyone for actively participating in our third chat on Inquiry-based Project-based Learning and Personalized Learning on 2/9/15. This was Trend #6 in the 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015.
The big question we considered this question in the chat:"What are authentic ways for learners to engage in project-based learning activities?" 

The conversations were thoughtful and engaging. We learned so much from so many wonderful educators. The questions we asked included:
Q1. What is the difference between projects and project-based learning?
Q2 What are the big ideas learners should know?
Q3 What is the design process for PBL so learners drive their learning?
Q4 How do you encourage inquiry based around learners interests?
Q5. What PL qualities need to be part of effective PBL activities?
Q6. What are examples of exemplary project-based activities?
A few resources we shared before the #plearnchat on 2/9 on Inquiry-based PBL and Personalized Learning:
Congratulations to Gabrielle Marquette who won our book, Make Learning Personal!

Gabrielle is a practicing special educator at Enosburg Falls High School and a consulting teacher in rural Vermont. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses to teachers.

Gabrielle's website:

Twitter: @Gabster4500  

Next #plearnchat is Monday, February 23rd on Multi-age Co-Teaching - Join us!
Here's the archive of the #plearnchat on Inquiry-based PBL and Personalized Learning: