What is Personalized Learning? That is a term that comes up a lot these days in the education field. Many teachers and districts want to make learning more personalized for students, but what does that actually look like? When you start searching for the answer, there are so many resources that you can easily get lost and overwhelmed.
I think the most basic definition, and example, of Personalized Learning is what we, as adults, do to grow in our professions. In today’s world, no matter what your profession, you MUST continue to grow and learn. Doctors learn new surgical techniques, new therapies, new medicines. I certainly don’t want to go to a doctor that has never done any type of professional learning since graduating from medical school. Lawyers stay abreast of new laws and current rulings that could affect their practices. Civil Engineers must stay current on changing laws, new technologies, etc….
In short, if you want to continue to succeed in your profession, you must continue to learn. But HOW do we learn? As adults we have a choice as to how we learn. Some of us attend conferences or face-to-face trainings. Some read books, journals, or online articles. Some watch YouTube videos. Some participate in Twitter Chats or write blogs where they interact with readers. There are so many resources in today’s world that knowledge is at our fingertips.
I think this is personalization at its best! I continue to grow in my field in a variety of ways: professional/leadership books, conferences, Twitter, blogs, articles, videos, podcasts. The great thing about this is, I direct my own learning. I choose what I want to learn, when I want to learn it and how I want to learn. When I needed to rewire a lamp, I went to YouTube and quickly found a video that walked me through the steps. When I wanted to see what flexible seating looked like in a classroom, I found videos and articles. When I want to see what the hot topics are in my field, I go to Twitter and participate in a Twitter Chat. In short, I have personalized my learning.
If adults have choice in learning and this keeps us motivated and growing in our field, how would students respond to this type of freedom? How can we personalize learning for them? Of course there are specific standards that students must master, but there are no rules for HOW students learn these skills.
Think about multiplication tables for example. We all had to learn them. Some of us memorized the equations, some used flash cards, some memorized a song, some had a method using hands/fingers, some used acronyms, some wrote them out. We all have ways that we learn best and students can usually tell you what works for them. For instance, I know that I have to see something to internalize it – a graph, reading, chart, photo, etc. I cannot simply hear information and comprehend it well.
So how do we personalize learning for students? First and foremost, we have to know our students. If we don’t know them, there is no way we can personalize instruction. Each student has a variety of ways that they learn best. They also have a variety of ways to demonstrate that learning. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not a good test taker?” The truth is that some people do not demonstrate their learning that way. But that same student may be able to orally answer questions to demonstrate proficiency. Or they may be able to create a product that demonstrates mastery: a song, blog post, online presentation, website, etc….. Do we hold them back because they do not demonstrate mastery on a traditional test?
So how do we begin to tackle this? There is not an easy answer. There are choice boards, playlists, and pathways that some educators use. But just as each child is different, their learning needs are different as well. How many of us would have gladly learned Main Idea in reading if we had our choice of topics to read: duck hunting, soccer, art, ballet….. ? There are no rules saying exactly what type of texts must be used….
How do we personalize? There are a variety of different ways. The key is to find what works for the student and make that happen. Our students are worth it!
How do you personalize your learning and/or the learning of your students? I would love to hear your thoughts.