Making Personalized Learning Real

Opinion | Events

Making Personalized Learning Real

By Betsy Corcoran     Aug 17, 2017

Making Personalized Learning Real

If April is the cruelest month as the poets say, I nominate September as the most hopeful.

With September comes the official beginning of school: open doors, fresh supplies, new ideas. Hope is deeply intertwined with education. Goals anchor learning, providing direction for teachers and students. Inspiring teachers lay out the pathways or routes that can enable students to achieve those goals. We aim to create environments that fuel agency—both for students and teachers. And the most thoughtful educators show students how to use the barriers they encounter to redirect their work—not simply give up.

These days, many educators are fueling their hope with visions of personalizing learning—of finding ways to help students articulate their goals, find pathways, take action and keep at it, no matter the obstacles.

Even so, there is plenty of debate about “personalized learning,” starting with the core question: Is it a “thing”? Can “personalized learning” be the same in different schools? How does it change teachers’ roles? What are the risks? Does it threaten to divide our students, to wind up “tracking” them and so preemptively deciding their fate?

And—the biggest question of all—do these ideas offer some new insights for how to prepare our children for the future?

Those are a few of the topics that we hope to explore at the EdSurge Fusion Conference on Personalized Learning, co-hosted with Digital Promise, in November in South San Francisco.

Unique to Fusion: We’re bringing together a more than dozen education organizations and their resources, hundreds of education leaders, researchers as well as industry executives to learn from each other. Equity will be a critical top—as will how advanced technology will change our students’ future world. Those points will be fundamental to the four threads of the event:

How to Build Vision

The worst reason for change, school leaders agree, is because a pallet-full of computers has just landed on the school’s front steps and no one knows what to do with them.

Thoughtful school leaders are frequently motivated by the experiences they see students having in school. Such reasons contribute to “vision,” a model of teaching and learning that is personalized and supports students variability and agency. Before school leaders embark on a campaign to change their schools, they need a well-articulated reason for taking their journey and an idea of where they’d like to wind up.

A host of organizations aim to help school leaders define where they want to lead their school communities. Future Ready, for instance, offers a set of resources for school leaders just embarking on the path to personalized learning. Leap Innovations in Chicago has a four-point framework focused entirely on learners. NewSchools Venture Fund provides support and funding to school leaders who are doing school redesign.

What Does the Research Say?

Informing and feeding that vision should be deep knowledge—ideally research findings about how students learn, what shapes their readiness to learn and how those principles can be applied in tools to support learning. Digital Promise has devoted significant resources to showing the links between what we know—and how it gets implemented in school. For instance, the organization’s research map connects topics such as student motivation to published research frameworks and results.

Implement, Implement, Implement

Putting the best laid plans into action, however, is still challenging. From student privacy and data management concerns, to the challenge of making software tools work well or interoperate, a number of organizations have been developing approaches and protocols to managing these issues, including the Ed-Fi Alliance, which aims to bring different data and IT systems together in meaningful ways.

Show me the Evidence

Laying out just what programs are most effective—and why—is another cornerstone of real change. This past spring, the Jefferson Education Accelerator convened researchers to discuss the most promising directions for laying out the efficacy of education technology and the corresponding teaching models.

Join us for what promises to be a memorable event!


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