Sunday, March 13, 2016

Personalized Learning Through the Eyes of a Child

Guest Post by Pam Lowe, Educator, Marketing Associate, and Personalized Learning Coach 

We’re learners even before the moment we are born. Nearly every observation made as babies is tucked away as a memory of a lesson learned. We all begin as learners naturally making our own discoveries. We are curious about how things work, and experiment with our own ideas. Our inner spirited learner says, “Get out of my way!” as we yearn to take command of our learning.

Recently for my birthday, my husband enrolled us in one of those painting party/classes where you can paint a picture with an instructor who demonstrates how to paint it. It was a thoughtful gift, both in theme and in the idea that it was the gift of time together creating a shared memory.

When we arrived, everything we needed for the class was laid out for all the participants, from paints to canvas to brushes. While waiting for the class to begin, my phone rang. It was my four-year old niece, calling to wish me a happy birthday. During the course of our conversation she asked where we were as she could hear people talking and laughing. I described where we were. She was quite intrigued because she loves making art, all kinds of art, but especially painting. Naturally she asked what we were painting and I explained that we were painting a picture with branches and flowers. Her next question was if everyone was painting the same painting. I replied yes, that the instructor would show us how to paint the picture and everyone was expected to follow along. Her mind was reeling with this information and she began questioning:

“Why does everyone have to paint the same thing?”
“Why can’t people paint what they want to paint? “
“Can people choose their own paint colors? “
“Why do you have to paint the way the teacher says? “

For a little background, this is a child, who is so curious that at three years old and unable to read; taught herself how to find YouTube videos in order to learn how to pull teeth in dentistry videos, how to create Play Dough masterpieces, and how to fix her own hair. She has many interests and she has learned how to use technology to learn about them. She, and young learners like her, already know what some may not realize or may have forgotten and that is; learning doesn’t have to happen within the walls of a school building. Learning can occur anywhere, everywhere and at any time. She is a learner. She does all this, of course; with supervision of her parents and the blocking of unsavory websites.

It occurred to me while she was talking on the phone that her queries about the painting class translate to the following questions that all learners in a factory-model learning atmosphere are sure to ask themselves:

“Why does everyone have to learn the same thing? “
“Why can’t learners learn what they want to learn? “
“Can learners choose their own learning tools? “
“Why do learners have to learn the way a teacher says? “

Basically at the wise old age of four, the question my niece was asking me that currently many educators and schools are struggling to comprehend was,

“Why can’t learning be personalized?”

When a child can recognize the need for personalized learning, why can’t our education system? My niece is not viewing personalized learning as a buzzword or a fad. She is viewing personalized learning as a right that is due her as a learner. She was earnest in her questioning that inherently asked, why can’t there be voice and choice in learning? Why can’t learners “access, engage and express” their learning in ways that are meaningful to them? (Access, Engage, and Express TM; Personalize Learning, LLC).

As a preschooler, she is already absorbing how to play the “game of school” with rules and schedules that teach compliance. What I hope for her and for all learners, is that she will have teachers and a school culture that will encourage her as a learner and won’t suppress her questioning, wonder, discoveries, and uniqueness.

We are born learners. Somewhere along the way, the current education system can abduct the inner spirit of learners and their curiosity about the world. It’s time we stop viewing personalized learning as just a buzzword and in the ideas of a four-year-old, realize it’s the right of every learner to have voice and choice in their learning.


Pam Lowe has been in education for 22 years as a teacher, and curriculum director. She is the author of Missouri Then & Now: Activity Book, University of Missouri Press and has written for the Huffington Post and TechLearning magazine.

During her career she has assisted schools in leaving their school improvement status and in areas of assessment, inquiry-based /student-centered learning, educational technology, data analysis, and Depth of Knowledge. She served as a Missouri STARR Teacher and was named Teacher of the Year twice at O'Neal Elementary in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and Poplar Bluff R-1 District Teacher of the Year. She was designated a semi-finalist in Technology & Learning's Leader of the Year in 2005 and served on a National Advisory Board for Macmillan Mathematics.

Pam facilitates #plearnchat as @plearnchat, is a coach and moderator for the 5W's of Personalized Learning eCourses and is Marketing Associate for Personalize Learning. You can contact Pam on Twitter: @prlowe91 and email: