Innovative Learning Models
How we teach, How we learn
There are many potential ways to interpret the term personalized learning. To make it more concrete, here’s one working definition developed in 2014 by key leaders in the field including the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and iNACOL.
- Competency-Based Progression: Each student’s progress toward clearly-defined goals is continually assessed. A student advances and earns credit as soon as he/she demonstrates mastery.
- Flexible Learning Environments: Student needs drive the design of the learning environment. All operational elements—staffing plans, space utilization and time allocation—respond and adapt to support students in achieving their goals.
- Personal Learning Paths: All students are held to clear, high expectations, but each student follows a customized path that responds and adapts based on his/her individual learning progress, motivations, and goals.
- Sources: Developed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Afton Partners, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, CEE Trust, the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Charter School Growth Fund, EDUCAUSE, iNACOL, the Learning Accelerator, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Silicon Schools, and educators
Here’s a snapshot in time: bitter arguments around competing ways to organize schools. Proponents of educating the whole child pitted against those who believe in fact-based education. Massive classes of students overseen by “monitors.”
These debates about how children should be educated were rancorous and divisive and took place throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century. Fast-forward to the past few years and, again, we see a powerful brew of forces—technological, economic and societal—reigniting debates about how we organize school.
The Khan Lab School was founded to develop new, personalized practices that center around the student. The school is a full-year, full-day, mixed-age program with a collaborative, project-based learning approach. The school will research blended learning and education innovation and share what they learn with schools and networks around the world. AT&T through AT&T Aspire supports the development of the school’s new curricula and processes, as well as the testing, documenting, and dissemination of key learnings.
This past year, the conversation around new models of learning continued to crescendo. We saw a growing number of educators talking about technology as something that freed them to holistically transform how they teach, not just gizmos to speed up (or slow down) what was already happening in schools. Educators experimented with new education models that have emerged over the last few years and unleashed a buzzword blizzard: blended, personalized and competency-based learning; hands-on, project-based learning; microschools; adaptive and student-driven learning. In many instances, the pedagogical ideas were not new. What was different, however, was that technology made it possible to put concepts into practice at scale.
In each case, smart use of technology has been key to achieving the goals of their programs.
- Summit Public Schools, based in California, offers a self-directed approach to learning, where students pursue their interests but still work through Common Core aligned curriculum.
- Rooted School, a pilot program in New Orleans, leverages project-based learning experiences and partnerships with high-quality employers to prepare students for jobs after high school.
- Achievement First’s Greenfield Schools, set high expectations for students including a sense of “ownership” of their work, and the school invests intentionally in developing teachers to work closely with students.
Researchers are still trying to assess whether these changes will make a difference in student achievement and learning. A late 2015 study sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called early results “promising,” but conceded that there is “considerable” variation in how schools are trying to implement new models.
But to be clear, there is a vast ocean of difference between a conversation evolving, and on-the-ground practices changing. Still, here’s what we can agree on: there’s more experimentation than we’ve ever seen and it’s generating a lot more attention from the general public than we’ve ever seen.
More and more student-centered models are emerging. “I see more people talking about kids and less about movements. We are looking more at what kids are doing, how they make decisions, what student voice is” predicts Jennie Magiera, Chief Technology Officer of Des Plaines School District 62 who also served on the Technical Working Group for the US Department of Education’s National Educational Technology Plan, “is going to be a year of bringing kids back into the conversation.” We’re excited to explore what’s next.
It’s no secret; there is a lot of data generated from new learning approaches, and it can feel incredibly overwhelming even for the most experienced educators. As more schools try innovative pedagogical approaches, teachers are confronting some of the data challenges associated with these new models: organizing, interpreting and operationalizing the data. This is further exacerbated when most products don’t “talk” to each other—taking data from one tool and combining it with data from another to get a holistic picture of a student's learning experience is not an easy process. Even so, once data is collected and aggregated, the challenge is to interpret what it means and then act on it. According to the 2015 report ‘Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning’, “61% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that while they had plenty of data, they needed help translating those data into instructional steps.”
In response to the changing job and global context, educators are increasingly focused on teaching core life skills, such as persistence, integrity, collaboration and growth mindset—which nurture a whole person, not just the academic side. “We are seeing an expanded definition of success, and a broader range of indicators, including a non-academic set of measurements,” says Arielle Rittvo Kinder, Partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. In fact, “social-emotional measures are becoming more widespread and are even starting to be used in actual accountability measures,” says Lynzi Ziegenhagen, Chief Executive Officer of Schoolzilla, referencing the CORE network of California districts who have developed a School Quality Index. For Daniel Guerrero, Instructional Coach at BetterLesson and former elementary school teacher, social emotional learning was so critical that “the values of Drive, Grit, and Professionalism replaced the class rules.”