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.

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