"[M]any parents and educators... assume that personalized learning is somehow less rigorous or more “loosey-goosey” than the traditional classroom model. While it’s true that PL is a learner-centric approach, it also requires (and teaches) a huge amount of self-knowledge, discipline and accountability."
Personalized learning reimagines the classroom by allowing each learner to pursue an individualized path to education that acknowledges their natural interests, leverages their existing strengths and navigates their weaknesses. However, when many parents and educators hear that definition, they assume that personalized learning is somehow less rigorous or more “loosey-goosey” than the traditional classroom model. While it’s true that PL is a learner-centric approach, it also requires (and teaches) a huge amount of self-knowledge, discipline and accountability.
Personalized learning can challenge students more effectively than any other approach because it requires them to learn not just facts and skills but also the strategies, media and venues that help them learn best. The journey to gaining knowledge and getting better at navigating the world is truly a journey within the self, and personalized learning recognizes that.
Students in a PL classroom don’t just jump into “doing whatever they want” like so many teachers and parents fear. Instead, they spend weeks early in the school year building an understanding of themselves, how they function as a learner and citizen and what knowledge and skills are most important for them to develop in the coming school year or class. These reflective strategies help students understand themselves better and build comfort with self-assessing their progress as learners and community members, while building a metacognitive toolkit to ensure they thrive in the adult world.
Personalized learning encourages classroom teachers to cede some of their daily power as the center of the classroom to transition into a coaching/support role for each individual learner instead. That means learners have more self-directed time each day. Under the traditional model, it’s easy for teachers to stress about these long, unstructured sessions, but once students have been introduced to the culture and success of personalized learning, they will quickly transition into using their time much better.
By putting students in the driver’s seat when it comes to learning new skills or information and demonstrating knowledge thereof, educators can effectively remove the stimuli that were causing students to tune out and disengage from school (teacher-centered lessons, low-agency assignments, didactic assessments). When students feel that they and their unique perspectives are truly seen, heard and valued in the classroom, they’ll do self-directed work that blows the doors off anything they could have created in a teacher-led environment.
In the traditional classroom, teachers have all the responsibility when it comes to accountability: they must create all the assessments, score them and report those grades to the school, district and state. Personalized learning, on the other hand, rethinks assessment to both challenge students with more responsibility and support them with increased agency. Under the PL model, it is the responsibility of each learner to demonstrate their learning, which means using an open-ended framework to create products, projects and real work in the community that reflect the knowledge and skills they have gained.
PL doesn’t simply allow students to create fun projects and be done with the learning process, however. The personalized approach requires students to reflect deeply on their learning process and explain not just what they learned but how they accessed it, how they demonstrated it in their assessment and how they will make that new knowledge and those new skills part of their lives moving forward. In this way, personalized learning provides a much more authentic, useful assessment model. Instead of putting all the responsibility on teachers to prove that students are learning, PL puts the onus on learners to demonstrate how they’re growing and improving in school.