How Adults are Personalizing Learning

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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.

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Note: The copyrights on the article belong to the author. The responsibility for the opinions expressed in the article belongs exclusively to the author. Previously published on The Educational Rambler

Teach Like Google Exists




I absolutely love this quote from Alice Keeler.  “Teach like Google exists.”  How thought provoking…..

Many of us – if not most – grew up in the “PG Era” (Pre-Google).  Because of this, school looked a lot different than it does today.  The teacher was the sole holder of information and he/she shared that knowledge with students through their teaching.  The only other way to acquire knowledge was through books, if you had access to them.  Many of us remember searching through the volumes of encyclopedias to do a report on Ecuador or Thomas Jefferson.  Or we had to go to the library, search through a card catalog, find that area of the library, search for the book and hopefully locate it.  Once we located the book, we then had to look through the entire book to obtain the information we desired.  This was …… time consuming.  It could also be completely frustrating.

Imagine if we asked our students today to turn off all devices and look through an encyclopedia or library to find basic information.  They would look at us as if we had just told them to build a rocket ship to the moon.  They may actually be able to do that easier than finding information the old-fashioned way.

But I think the implications of this quote go farther than just knowledge acquisition.  Traditional schools have equipped students with knowledge in the form of facts.  We memorized facts so when we needed them later in life, we could easily recall these.  Our brains were like dusty library shelves holding volumes of information that we may never use again.  But in today’s world, students do not to spend time memorizing these facts – they can be found easily by searching Google.  I visualize their brains as a complex series of pinballs bouncing back and forth to all regions of their brain as they synthesize information and use it to create new ideas.

Take a short break and time yourself to see how long it takes to search Google for one of the following:

  • The capital of North Dakota.
  • The 32nd US President.
  • The population of Spain.
  • The 18th Amendment.

How long did it take you?  I searched each one and found the answer in between 7 to 10 seconds. (depending on how fast you type.)  So, if this information can be obtained in a matter of seconds using devices, why would we ever ask students to memorize this information?  We live in a world where students have constant access to digital devices – and always will.

In a world where facts can be obtained by anyone in a matter of seconds, why are we still asking students to memorize information and testing this memorization on standardized tests?  Fact regurgitation is an antiquated skill.  If Google can pass the tests we give to students, there’s something wrong with the tests.

Please don’t misunderstand – I do think there are some things that should and must be committed to memory.  How can students learn to read if they don’t know the alphabet?  Multiplication tables must be memorized to further Maths knowledge.  However, the list of the “must memorize” items, has decreased significantly in today’s world.

If information is so readily accessible, education should not be about mere knowledge acquisition.  Education today should be about what students can DO with that information.  Rather than regurgitate, students should be analyzing, comparing, synthesizing and creating new ideas based on information.

Let’s look at the 18th Amendment about Alcoholic Prohibition for a moment.  Instead of having students only learn what the amendment is, they should be doing something with that information.  Students could write an opinion blog either supporting or not supporting the amendment and its enforcement.  Students could compare the societal conditions that led to the passing of the amendment, to current societal conditions in the US regarding marijuana usage.  After learning about the amendment and what led up to it, students could draft an alternate amendment to better address the issue.  By going deeper, students will understand the information better and make connections about its relevance to their lives and laws that are passed currently in the US.

Having knowledge now is simply not enough.  Anyone who can type, can access knowledge.  What you can DO with the knowledge is what is important now.

How are you changing your instruction to teach and lead like Google exists?

Image credit: Alice Keeler

Note: The copyrights on the article belong to the author. The responsibility for the opinions expressed in the article belongs exclusively to the author. Previously published on The Educational Rambler