Thursday, January 5, 2017

10 Trends of Personalized Learning in 2017

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Personalized Learning continues to be on everyone’s mind. 2017 will see exciting examples and models of personalized learning that will be unique for each community. The idea of personalizing learning is not about creating one model that works for everyone; it is about creating an authentic model based on the needs of everyone in that learning community. We see the trends as a way to focus more on the distinctive characteristics of each learner and adapt the system and process as they learn, grow, and change. Teachers are learners too, and that means developing a support system for change. We divided the 2017 ten trends into five categories:
  1. Process: UDL, innovation and creativity as the foundation for personalized learning.
  2. Technology: Digital literacy plays a large role in personalized learning.
  3. Structural: How learners will learn at their own pace and build their network.
  4. Teaching & Learning: Learning is personal for both learners and teachers.
  5. Cultural: When teachers encourage equity and agency, culture in the classroom changes.
We decided to choose two trends for each of the five categories that we believe will be big this coming year. Each of these trend takes in so much around personalized learning that we see multiple directions teachers and learners can use these trends to grow and change throughout the year and beyond.


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1. Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the framework to personalize learning. All learners bring to every learning experience a multiplicity of talents, interests, and needs. In fact, neuroscience informs us that each learner's uniqueness is as distinctive as their fingerprints. We see more educators referring to Access, Engage, and Express as they encourage learners to develop Learner Profiles, Personal Learning Backpacks, and Personal Learning Plans. Now that ESSA states that UDL is the evidence-based practice to personalize learning, it will be important to have examples and models of how educators are using UDL in their teaching practice.

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2. Innovation and Creativity

“Joy is a vital and inseparable part of effective learning.” quoted Dean Shareski (@shareski) from his book “Embracing a Culture of Joy.” How do we make learning more joyful and relevant to the real-world? George Couros' (@gcouros) book "The Innovator's Mindset" and Sir Ken Robinson's (@SirKenRobinson) book "Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education" opened our eyes about the importance of innovation and creativity. We believe that in 2017, teachers and learners will encourage innovation, take more risks, learn from failure, and will push themselves out of their comfort zone to develop a makerspace mindset. Both teachers and learners will create strategies and provide opportunities for tinkering using a design thinking process to bring curiosity, fun, and joy to learning every day.


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3. Future Ready

With so many discussions around being Future Ready from the USDOE Department of Educational Technology, we decided to investigate where and how did personalized learning fit. We reviewed several articles What do Future Ready Schools look like? from Edutopia, FutureReady Toolkit for Empowering Educators, and Building Culture and Leading Future Ready Schools via Eric Sheninger @e_sheninger so we could connect the dots. What we found was when learners turn challenges they have into strengths, they can enhance their strengths so they are self-confident in what and how they learn. ISTE has developed new Standards for Students to help learners acquire the skills they need to be future ready. To do this, learners develop agency so they will set their own goals using their Personal Learning Plans to explore careers and personal goals to determine what experiences they need to be ready for college, career, and life.

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4. Digital Literacy

Most learners today have more knowledge about technology than their teachers, but most have not had instruction on how and when to use technology appropriately. "Too often the focus is on learning the technology itself, with little time given to discussing what is or isn't appropriate." (What is Digital Literacy?) Learners will need to learn how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world. Personalized learning means learners self-direct and own their learning. However, going online provides unknown dangers to anyone who does not know how to protect themselves in this environment. (Common Sense Media) Just posting on social media is more than creating your digital footprint; it becomes a digital tattoo. Teachers will involve digital literacy more in 2017 when learners are researching online and asking good questions about the content.


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5. Competency-Based Education (CBE) Policy

With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the door has opened for states to pursue a comprehensive policy approach to support Competency-Based Education (CBE) at scale. (iNACOL). CompetencyWorks has recently compiled a set of guiding documents to advance CBE at the district level as well as for state policymakers to develop policy to support CBE. The concept behind CBE means learning is best measured by learners demonstrating mastery of learning targets, rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. CBE is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” By redesigning the education system around actual learning, each learner is effectively prepared for college and careers in an increasingly global and competitive economy. If you would like to get a clearer picture of what competency-based education (CBE) looks and sounds like in a personalized learning system, check out this KnowledgeWorks video.

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6. Global Collaboration

We are all part of an active global collaborative community that creates conditions where everyone can flourish and there is a balanced view of the purpose of lifelong learning. In The Global Educator, Julie Lindsay (@julielindsay) illustrates the need for intercultural understanding and collaboration to personalize learning and to bring the world to our learners. If we can prepare our kids to be productive and compassionate citizens in an increasingly global economy, they will then improve their communication skills, collaborate effectively and be ready to participate in an increasingly multicultural world. Our ever changing workforce creates a critical need for innovation. Ken Kay, CEO of EdLeader21, remarked, “Today’s students need critical thinking and problem-solving skills not just to solve the problems of their current jobs, but to meet the challenges of adapting to our constantly changing workforce.” (Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global SocietyGlobe image from

Teaching and Learning

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7. Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) when focused on real-world issues makes learning relevant, meaningful, personal, and fun. Dr. Jackie Gerstein @jackiegerstein wrote in her guest post “Learning Should be Natural and Engaging” several suggestions for establishing context to teaching practices that included how to assess and connect to learners’ real life, explore previous experiences and use hands-on and experiential activities. PBL does those and more. Learners can start with empathy using the design thinking process. Are there any problems or issues that learners want to investigate or try to solve? Encourage kids to collaborate using inquiry to brainstorm questions they need to ask about this problem. [Power of Questions] PBL, if focused on the process not the product, shakes up traditional teaching methods to encourage learners to take more responsibility for their learning so they develop agency. PBL that focuses on the learners makes learning more personal because they have a voice and choice in what and how they learn. 2017 will see learners going deeper into learning using PBL and inquiry.

8. Personal Professional Learning

Teachers are learners too. 2017 will be the year where teachers decide to take charge of their own professional learning by reflecting on the process and demonstrating evidence of learning. We will also see a change in teacher evaluations moving from teachers being accountable of test scores to a collaborative community of learners based on the competencies mentioned in #5. Digital Promise has updated their site and strategies on how they offer opportunities for teachers to earn micro-credentials where they can demonstrate evidence of learning through the eyes of their learners. It has become clear that there is no "one size fits all" approach to micro-credentials, and Digital Promise has partnered with schools and organizations to come up with solutions for professional learning. Expect more information about the Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching that guides educators in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that they need in order to create and thrive in effective personalized, learner-centered environments. More schools and districts will redesign job-embedded professional learning around the needs of each teacher by offering edcamps, book studies, and even meeting over coffee. Professional learning encourages personal growth by teachers developing specific goals with their own learning plans. Read what Pat Phillips just wrote about Personalized PD looks like in Bismarck Public Schools on Edsurge 1/4/17.


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9. Equity and Social Justice

Schools need to be laboratories for a more just society than the one we live in now. We live in a society that is diverse and, unfortunately, too many schools fail to confront the inequalities woven into our social fabric.[Rethinking Schools] Teachers have little control over class size, school practices, and planning time. One classroom at a time can become places of hope. The curriculum needs to encourage learners to “share their voices” with the world. We want to learners of all ages to see themselves as truth-tellers and change-makers. Social justice is not an "add on" for classrooms; it is a way of teaching and being that supports higher-level thinking and learning throughout our lives. [Edutopia] Since our society is changing, more voices will be sharing what they believe. However, they may not know if the source they read about is based on facts. Read Rusul Alrubail’s Five Ways to Advocate for Justice in Education and consider this quote from her: “We discuss social justice and equity in the classroom to help raise awareness that these issues directly touch our lives, and if we don’t speak up for ourselves, then who will?” 

Join our #plearnchat discussions on Equity and Social Justice on Monday, January 16, 2017 at 7pm ET, 6pm CT, 5pm MT, and 4pm PT. 

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10. Culture of Learning

Terry Heick @terryheick) shared that "learning is a culture" and that “a culture of learning is a collection of thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.” [Edutopia]  Creating a personalized learning environment is about relationships based on trust and respect. This is the first step to build a culture where every learner is valued. Building a culture of learning is about weaving people, systems, and processes together with the values and behaviors prevalent in the classroom, school or district. The idea around building culture is more than continuing with the “status quo” or “how we do it around here.” Building a learning culture is about growth, change and lifelong learning. Build a learning culture doesn’t just benefit teachers; it benefits everyone in the school community. Culture building activities can be found in Chapter 9 of our new book, How to Personalize Learning, along with some pointers from Rich Czyz (@RACzyz) and Trevor Bryan (@trevorabryan) of the Four O-Clock Faculty team ( in the “5 Ways to Improve Classroom Culture”. Check out the conversations in our #plearnchat on Tips to Build a Culture of Learning from educators around the world.


We look forward to learn from you and how you are transforming teaching and learning. We hope that you join in the conversations and share your journey to personalize learning over the next year. We also encourage your input on these trends for 2017 and welcome your comments below.

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