[Personalized Learning] Design Your Framework

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Personalized learning may be all the rage in education today, but what does a personalized learning framework actually look like? The short answer: we’re still figuring that out. Schools and districts are making use of blended learning initiatives to provide personalized learning opportunities at school—and many are doing so with great success. However, as Michael Horn points out in this EdSurge article, the success of these programs is dependent on a thorough understanding of the needs of their specific learners and educators.

What does that mean for educators working to implement their own personalized learning programs? Design from the ground up! And it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. We’ve put together this list of considerations to give you a starting point for determining what the specific needs of your program are. From there, you can combine the best of frameworks that already exist along with your own ideas to create a personalized learning program that will achieve success for your school or district.

1.       Identify the problem or goal you are looking to address

Each school and district faces its own, unique challenges. Clearly define what those challenges are for your organization and which of them you want to address with your personalized learning program. Do you want to bring graduation rates up? Improve standardized test scores in math or reading or science—or all three? Increase the achievement of students in special education or intervention programs? Whatever your challenge might be, make sure that you (and everyone involved in designing your program) have a firm grasp of what you are hoping to accomplish with personalized learning.

2.       Think about your students’ perspectives

Of course, the decision to implement a personalized learning program is born out of desire to meet your students’ needs. But when you determine those needs, are you taking into account the students’ perspectives as well? Why are they motivated to come to school each day? What experiences do they already have, and which do they need to be provided with? How can they be empowered to set and meet their own goals? The most effective personalized learning programs are built to prioritize the student perspective; after all, student motivation will inevitably be a lynchpin of program success.

3.       Put together the right team

Depending on what challenge or problem you want to tackle with your personalized learning initiative, you will need to assemble a team of educators and administrators from appropriate areas to design your framework. This may include just a few teachers if, for instance, your goal is simply to raise reading scores in several elementary grades. On the other hand, it may mean a large team of teachers, administrators, counselors, and intervention specialists if you are looking to address a wide-reaching issue such as intervention needs across your district. It is also important to evaluate whether there is a need for a dedicated technology specialist as you design your framework.

 4.       Define success

Once you have settled on a challenge, identified students’ needs, and assembled the right team for your personalized program, it’s time to determine how you will measure and define successful outcomes. What data and metrics will you track, and how will you track them? How will you make the data easily accessible to teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in your personalized learning initiative? Be sure to think about your students when considering data accessibility. Helping students to own their learning is an important component of personalized learning, so giving them the ability to track their own progress is a must. Finally, set objectives for everyone involved that are specific (like a certain percentage increase in graduation rate or test scores) as well as attainable in order to help achieve buy-in for your initiative and effectively evaluate it in the future.

5.       Choose the right tech

There are a lot of options for edtech in the market, so evaluate carefully before you choose providers for your personalized learning program. Consider how important it is to your organization to use a single vendor or platform for your whole program. Or, are you willing to build any of your own solutions? It’s also necessary to think about the bandwidth of your school or district’s network and if it can support the solutions you are looking at. Think about what kind of devices you want to use in your program. Keep in mind, it is not necessary to implement a one-to-one model to have a successful program. Finally, think about how the technology will work in your physical space. Do you want to maintain traditional classroom and class schedules, or explore options tailored to a personalized learning environment? These could be blocked schedules to allow students more time with specialists, or classrooms with dedicated spaces for individual work, group work, and one-on-one time with instructors.

6.       Provide teachers with the opportunities they need to succeed

Personalized learning is all about providing students with opportunities to take ownership of their learning and achieve success on their own terms. It makes sense that the same principle should be followed for the teachers delivering that instruction. Think about what training (on devices, technology, and instructional practices) your staff will need to be successful from the start. Then, consider how to improve their skills, maintain their motivation, and allow them to continue setting and meeting their own career goals.

7.       Crunch the budget numbers

It’s great to dream big when thinking about implementing personalized learning programs in your school, but as with every project, the budget is an unfortunate reality. Go into the process of designing your program with an understanding of how much funding you have, where that funding is coming from, and whether it will be an ongoing, sustainable source. After that, think about how your program may save you money, and where it will necessitate extra spending.

Personalized learning is an exciting work in progress for the education system. Numerous educators and institutions are already doing amazing things with it, and the ideas, concepts, and best practices are sure to only get better. Ready to start your own personalized learning journey? iNACOL and the Next Generation Learning Challenge have a great resource called Rethink: Planning and Designing for K-12 Next Generation Learning. You can also take a look at our resource on Five Steps to Differentiated Instruction.