Personalized & Blended Learning

08/17/2017
LEARNING AND THE BRAIN
By Judy Perez

Many districts in the U.S. are thinking of, planning, and/or implementing personalized and blended learning. All are at various, mostly initial, stages of development and lack the internal resources to move forward without external support. During the past 10 to 15 years, innovation in K12 public education has evolved from online to blended, to personalized learning all leading to a desired outcome, “student agency.” In this journey, earliest adopters have created exemplars and proof points of successful schools, but changing the system requires entire districts to prioritize personalized learning. 

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“Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”— iNACOL, Mean What You Say, 2013

In the past five years, we have experienced a stronger shift or movement in education pushing for more innovation and the use of technology in classrooms.  Teachers are being asked to shift their way of thinking about delivery of instruction and their role as teachers. Moving from a “sage on the stage” role to more of a guide or facilitator of learning for each of their students. Rather than teaching to many, education is moving towards teaching to one or each individual student — personalizing learning.

Why Personalize?

Let’s think about your own learning or training preferences. How do you prefer to learn or be trained? If you could choose from different options or training or to learn a skill, what would you choose? Given some the ability to choose from three options, would you welcome the opportunity to choose your learning environment? 

Think about your job training or professional development. Here is a common scenario that could fit many folks’ situations in the workplace. Let’s say you have 13 years of experience in your job under your belt. You have been offered the opportunity to choose from two options to train or learn a new skill would be beneficial to your career.

Option 1: Traditional classroom lecture style

Your teacher will lecture throughout the eight-hour day imparting knowledge. You will have five to 10 minute breaks and a lunch. Your learning consists of listening, asking questions and taking notes. Your environment will consist of 30 to 40 people or colleagues with different levels of experience listening to with the same instruction.  Some folks may have two years of experience in the same job as you while others may have over 20 years of experience. By the end of the day you will be assessed by taking a test on what you learned. Your test score will determine whether or not you are eligible move on to the next step in your work or career.

Option 2: Personal Profiles and your input on how you want to learn

You will be offered to create a personal profile that will show your learning preferences. Based on your profile, you will create your learning path to include how you want to learn the new skills and which resources you will use to show competency.  You will be given the flexibility to learn the material via experiences, your interests, and agreeable timeline.  You have the ability to create a plan or project agreeable with the instructor and define the way you can show you have mastered the content. 

Personalized Learning allows teachers to instruct based on individual student interests and preferences. Teachers are able to adapt and customize instruction to meet the needs of students and how they learn best. Personalization means that students receive instruction that supports how they learn best and can credit experience that is attained outside traditional classroom walls. 

We Have Always Personalized

Personalized Learning is not a new concept or instructional model.  Most, if not all, of us have at least one time been approached by a student or parent requesting an independent study plan for students who are not able to attend school for a determined period of time.  Rather than missing school for long periods of time, thus failing all courses or being held back, a resolution is to offer an independent study plan that spans all subject areas.  Independent study plans are offered to all students who need the opportunity to learn leveraging their experiences, technology, and any work they perform for the time they are outside the classroom.  These plans are not limited to students who are inherently motivated or who earn high grades in their classes.  Independent studies plans are customized for each student and are usually co-created with the student.  Students describe what they will be doing while gone and share ideas on how they can learn or master the objectives in the different subject areas.  Normally, independent study plans incorporate all core subject areas (at minimum) so plans are cross-curricular and credit can be accredited in all subject areas.  In many cases, these students have the advantage of learning based on unique experiences that are outside of the traditional 45-55 minute “sit and get” classes.  Students are actively involved in what and how they will learn while away.  Teachers offer guidance and feedback on creation of the plans.  Teachers are forced think about how students can leverage their environments, capitalize on their experiences, and translate all into mastering objectives in all subject areas.  An appropriate plan requires thinking, creativity, and thoughtful planning for each student based on their learning preferences.  During the time they are gone, how will they learn best?  What are the resources they will have access to?  How will they use their five senses in their experiences and applying that to their learning objectives?  Given their individual situations, what is the best way for them to learn based on their learning preferences to maximize learning?  Students will have more autonomy over how they will master the objectives for each subject area.  Student agency plays a large role in their own learning.

Blended Learning as a Pathway

Working Definition: “The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience” Clayton Christensen Institute... 

In other words, blended learning is an instructional method where students are able to receive instruction via direct face to face instruction from the teacher and part of the time via online content resources with teacher guidance.

As k12 education continues to evolve, educators, parents, students, and communities need to understand the need for change to keep up with evolving times.  As mentioned earlier in the article, personalization is not a new initiative or discussion in education. Personalization has been around for decades, but it was just named something different throughout the years.  What IS new, are the ways we can now leverage technology to support personalization with more efficiency.  Terms in education that are actually “new’ include blended learning, educational technology, and universal design learning.  As K12 education evolves to keep up with the times and meeting student needs in engagement and learning, there is a level of urgency to integrate and leverage technology in instructional practice.  This is a ‘brave new world” in which k12 educators have not experienced or seen before. Ed Tech refers to using technology tools and resources to supplement instruction. 

Blended learning is an instructional method that leverages technology to engage and support student learning. Blended learning is not a program, rather it is a pathway that can be used as an efficient method that supports personalizing learning.  Blended learning a type of “school”.  Schools may use blended learning as part of their instructional practice, but it should not be used as a type of school.  There are many successful schools and classrooms that do not label themselves as blended learning schools, they are simply neighborhoods schools that use innovative instructional models.  These models are becoming more utilized nationally and on a global scale.

Personalization is an outcome or goal and blended learning is a means towards that goal.

Blended learning is a way to leverage technology tools to reach every student’s learning needs and use student data to measure progress on a daily basis.  There is a spectrum of blended learning models that can used to support different classes, different subjects, and different student learning styles.  Teachers choose which models to use to suit each class they teach.  They can customize the blended learning based on the needs of each class and can use different models for different classes.  In a way, they can choose the better model to personalize their delivery for each individual class based on each classroom profile.  All of these methodologies fall under the larger umbrella of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). 

Visit the National Center for Universal Design for Learning to learn more about Universal Design for Learning.
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