Personalizing learning means different things to different people. The idea I want to share behind personalized learning is to empower learners including you as a learner to own and drive learning. That’s not easy especially when teachers have so much on their plates. It could be easier to continue with the status quo. But the teachers I know want the best for all of their learners. This post is to provide a few reasons to consider when you personalize learning.
In Dr. Todd Rose’s book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World the Values Sameness, he explains why we came to embrace the scientifically flawed idea that averages can be used to understand individuals. Rose offers a powerful alternative with three principles of individuality: the jaggedness principle (talent is never one-dimensional), the context principle (traits are a myth), and the pathways principle (we all walk the road less traveled). He explains that we are all unique and can take full advantage of individuality to gain an edge in life.
So why is this one of my reasons to personalize learning? I believe each of us is unique and all of us are learners. When I read Dr. Rose’s book, he explained about variability and why education has to change to meet the needs of each individual learner.
“Why is there no average learner?”
2. The Myth of Learning Styles.
We are all unique as Dr. Rose mentioned in his book, End of Average. Because of who we are and how we all learn in different ways, learners have preferences about how they learn. According to the authors [Riener and Willingham, 2014], whether we call it talent, ability, or intelligence, people vary in their capacity to learn different areas of content, differ in their background knowledge, and, intertwined with ability, they differ in their interests. When we identify a learner as one learning style over another, it does not follow the research about how the brain works. We use all of the modalities because that is how our brain works.
So why is this one of my reasons to personalize learning? I’ve seen so many learners labeled visual or kinesthetic so teachers differentiated instruction based on one or two labels. All of us have multiple dimensions that make us who we are. Most of us are visual learners unless we cannot see. Even blind people visualize in their heads what they are seeing. I will be writing more about this, but I hope schools rethink why they should not use learning styles to label a child.
“Why are learning styles debunked?”
3. How our Brain Learns.
Learning is a neurobiological process indicated by the growth and strengthening of connections between neurons. The brain is constantly changing which is called neuroplasticity. This means the brain can be improved and continues to adapt and learn through life even into our old age. The human potential for learning is limitless at any age. When you learn something new, your brain makes new connections. Your brain is even active when you reflect on your learning. You learn when your brain is active especially when learners ask questions, investigate, create, or reflect on their learning. Passive exposure or listening to a lecture does not necessarily lead to learning.
So why is this one of my reasons to personalize learning? Our brain is constantly changing as we learn. When a school or parent believes that a child is born with certain traits or talents, this can cause the child to believe that’s all they are. This happened to me. I was told I wasn’t very smart. I believed that during most of my school. My parents always believed in me and fought for me. And, on my own, I read and was hungry to learn. So I did. I was lucky to have parents who believed in me and a teacher who believed in my writing. I finally realized that I could learn anything if I put my mind to it. So now I write, share, and learn something new every day. I know that every child can learn because their brain is growing and learning every day. All children can learn if we give them opportunities and the support they need.
“How does the brain work?”
4. Universal Design for Learning® as the Framework
David Rose and Ann Meyers from The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) founded Universal Design for Learning® (UDL) based on decades of brain research and the neuroscience of individual differences, human variability, and how we learn. UDL is about reducing or eliminating the barriers to learning and optimizing levels of support to meet the needs and interests of all learners in the classroom. They realized that the curriculum, not the learner, was the problem. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional methods, materials, and assessments that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.
So why is this one of my reasons to personalize learning? We need to put more energy into finding out how children learn best. Universal Design for Learning does that. The three principles, Multiple Means of Engagement, Multiple Means of Representation, and Multiple Means of Action and Expression, pave the way. All three of the principles work together, but when you start with the “Why” of what engages you to want to learn, nothing can stop you. It is about encouraging curiosity and wonder. That passion to learn is what is so exciting about personalized learning.
“How can we reduce barriers to learning?”
5. Accountability vs. Responsibility
The word “responsibility” tends to be interchangeable with the word “accountability.” In many cases, teachers feel they are the ones responsible for students to learn. The reason is that the system seems to hold them and the school accountable for what students learn. “Accountability” refers to making, keeping, and managing agreements and expectations where “responsibility” is the feeling of ownership. So this means that each learner needs to be held accountable for what they learn by taking responsibility for their own learning.
So why is this one of my reasons to personalize learning? If the teacher is the hardest person working in the classroom, then who are the people really learning? Learning is not about passively receiving information. When the teacher is the one held accountable for what kids learn, then learning becomes work, not fun for both the teacher and learners. When our kids have a voice and choice in what and how they learn, they want to learn. They are motivated to learn. When they realize learning is for them not for a grade or for the teacher, they own it and develop agency.
“Who owns the learning?”
All learners can learn. It is our job as educators to provide the environment and support system so learners have a voice and choice in their learning. These are just a few reasons for you to consider if you go on the journey to personalize learning for all of your learners. I plan to write more posts that explain each of these reasons in more detail and discuss learner agency in depth in several posts.