Preparing Students For The Future

Creating Personalized Education Opportunities

03/31/2010
education
TAMRA EXCELL

Education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future; and to empower individuals to make a positive impact in the world. This statement tops the list for the Personalized Education Philosophy, envisioned by a group of educators who asked themselves the question, “How do we prepare students for a future we can barely imagine?” The answer: create personalized education opportunities aimed at preparing students to be successful, not just in their own communities, but as world citizens. The group’s goal is nothing short of changing the world of education, with activities ranging from teacher training to the founding of an international online K-12 school, all governed by the tenets of the Personalized Education Philosophy presented here.

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Student-Centered

A personalized education program is student-centered — tailored to each student’s learning styles, interests, current skill levels, and personal goals. Students are motivated to learn when they feel that the learning is valuable — the “why do we need to know this stuff?” question — and when they feel that they can be successful with the learning task. Aligning a program to a student’s interests and goals increases a lesson’s relevance, and value, for that student, and tailoring the program to a student’s current skills and learning styles increases student success. 

Competency- and Mastery-Based

Learning is competency- and mastery-based, allowing for extra time and assistance to master concepts a student finds difficult, while also allowing the student to move quickly through previously-mastered material, and eliminating arbitrary limitations on student progress. Is a student who passes pre-algebra with a 60 percent, sufficiently prepared to learn algebra? Investing time to secure a strong foundation at one level will increase success at greater levels. Current technologies facilitate designing instruction to allow for students to be at different places at different times, and to learn in a variety of ways. This is accomplished through clear goals, multiple options for learning those goals, followed by multiple options for demonstrating that learning.

What’s the Target?

As Dewey notes in Democracy and Education, “not the target but hitting the target is the end in view,” so more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn, and gaining competencies that will aid in the hitting of many targets, both current and those yet to be imagined. The world is in motion, and the information that is true or valuable today could be obsolete tomorrow. Governments rise and fall, old ideas are challenged, new technologies emerge — all impacting how the world does business. Students must be prepared with the ability to learn, critically evaluate, and apply new concepts that come their way.

Forward-Leaning

Therefore, education must be forward-leaning, recognizing that the “real world” for which students are being prepared is dynamic, with exponential changes especially in technology. Think about how much technology has changed over the years. Ever hear of punch cards for computer programming? Now we have marvels such as the Allosphere at U.C. Santa Barbara, allowing a team of researchers to walk into a sphere-shaped virtual reality to explore things such as the human brain through multiple senses, an artistic mix of visual effects and music. The world for which we are preparing high school freshmen will not be the same by time they graduate, and even more changes will take place by time they graduate college. A school’s education program must be fluid, ready to shift and change to ensure that students have the current knowledge and skills of today.

For example, in an online high school, students from several countries spanning multiple time zones can attend a live homeroom session using webcams, audio and a virtual whiteboard. Meanwhile, students must be empowered with the thinking skills to remain cutting edge.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

To adequately prepare students for a future that is difficult to even imagine, a personalized education program places the greatest value on creativity and the ability to engage in independent, critical thinking. The title “Information Age” does not begin to describe the infinite amount of information available today. Students need to analyze and critically evaluate information, question what they are learning instead of assuming anything is true, and creatively synthesize across disciplines. Bloom’s Taxonomy was updated by the American Psychological Association to have a new level of thinking at the top of the pyramid: creating. Schools cutting art programs are possibly eliminating the most important aspect of a student’s education. It was a creative thinker, orchestrally-trained composer JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, teamed with other creative thinkers — artists, scientists, and engineers — who created the Allosphere. It will be the creative thinking students who continue to push us forward, defining the future.

 Self-Cognizant, Life-Long Learners

Students are guided to become self-cognizant, life-long learners prepared not just for today’s world but equipped to continue learning for whatever the future holds. Students must gain awareness of their own learning. If they are struggling, empowered students seek additional help or request alternate approaches. They develop strategies for working through challenging learning activities and develop study skills that best align with their learning styles. This self-awareness and skills set is essential for continuing to learn new concepts as the future unfolds.

Student-Driven

A personalized education program is student-driven; students take an active role in their education, from the development of their education plans to collaboration with course instructors. This takes student-centered education to the next level by putting students in the driver’s seat. Ultimately, if the goal is to create independent thinkers and doers, then we need to empower students to be part of their own education program. Younger students and those new to a personalized education program tend to need more guidance, but students increasingly take more responsibility in creating meaningful educational experiences that align with their goals and interests.

Teacher’s Role

Instead of taking authoritative roles, or seen as the sole purveyors of knowledge, instructors are instead mentors, offering guidance and feedback while respecting the diverse needs and goals of each student. We cannot limit students to only that which we know, potentially dooming them to archaic thinking. Instead, we must free them to seek their own purposes in this world, and the teacher’s role is to guide students in accessing, evaluating, and using the increasing amounts of information and resources available to them. 

Making Connections

Students learn to identify and understand cause-and-effect relationships, recognizing connections that span and go beyond content areas, and engage in proactive behaviors leading to personal development and engagement in the service of their community and beyond. This last tenet is the culminating goal of the philosophy. Students gain an international perspective by interacting with fellow students from around the world, collaborating on creative projects that involve critical thinking and the use of current technologies. They make cross-discipline connections, with social sciences informing one to be socially responsible with the hard sciences, with art as a valid means of exploration and expression, and with a holistic view of the world created through questioning, exposure to varied cultures and ideas, and an openness to learn new things. The result: students are empowered to be world citizens who will lead us into the future.


 

 

Personalized Education Philosophy and Goals

Education’s purpose is to empower students to find their own paths to their own dreams; to create life-long learners who are prepared for both the modern world and the future; and to empower individuals to make a positive impact in the world.

To this end, a personalized education program is student-centered; a student’s educational program is tailored to the student’s learning styles, interests, current skill levels, and personal goals.

Learning is competency- and mastery-based, allowing for extra time and assistance to master concepts a student finds difficult, while also allowing the student to move quickly through previously-mastered material, and eliminating arbitrary limitations on student progress.

However, as Dewey notes in Democracy and Education, “not the target but hitting the target is the end in view,” so more important than learning specific concepts is learning how to learn, and gaining competencies that will aid in the hitting of many targets, both current and those yet to be imagined.

Therefore, education must be forward-leaning, recognizing that the “real world” for which students are being prepared is dynamic, with exponential changes especially in technology.

To adequately prepare students for a future that is difficult to even imagine, a personalized education program places the greatest value on creativity and the ability to engage in independent, critical thinking.

Students are guided to become self-cognizant, life-long learners prepared not just for today’s world but equipped to continue learning for whatever the future holds.

As such, a personalized education program is student-driven; students take an active role in their education, from the development of their education plans to collaboration with course instructors.

Instead of taking authoritative roles, or seen as the sole purveyors of knowledge, instructors are instead mentors, offering guidance and feedback while respecting the diverse needs and goals of each student.

Students also learn to identify and understand cause-and-effect relationships, recognizing connections that span and go beyond content areas, and engage in proactive behaviors leading to personal development and engagement in the service of their community and beyond.

Tamra Excell is Vice President of Personalized Education Group, Inc. and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction with the Christa McAuliffe Academy School of Arts and Sciences. For more information about Personalized Education Group, their philosophy, and the activities of the school, visit www.PersonalizedEducation.org.

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