Reflecting on iNACOL 2016: How Can We Achieve Equity in Personalized Learning?

Thursday, November 3, 2016 -- Madison Michell

While reflecting on a busy few days at the iNACOL Symposium in San Antonio last week, a few topics stood out amongst the rest. Without a doubt, personalized learning and competency-based learning will share the number one spot in popularity this year. From breakout sessions to conversations on the exhibit floor (and even the title of the symposium itself—Equity for Education), discussions centered on how to successfully implement and scale these approaches to learning.

And through it all, one question really stood out for me. How often are we elevating equity in personalized learning? As an industry, we often talk about creating educational equity as a desired outcome for personalized learning, but how intentional are we being to ensure it remains at the center of this movement?

One such session, entitled ‘Closing the Equity Gap in All Neighborhoods through Personalized Learning’ led by Virgil Hammonds, took a closer look at equality vs. equity in education. Here, equality can be defined as providing every student with the same quality education and similar supports, while equity is seen as supporting each student with an individual approach that meets their specific needs. Together, we looked at one visual example of equality vs. equity (that may look familiar to many)—and collectively agreed, that for students, education is often an uneven playing field.

Equality vs Equity

As soon as this visual hit the screen, heads began to nod in agreement and mutual understanding (mine included), and the parallels to traditional vs. personalized learning became self-evident. After listening to educators from across the United States discuss the need for equity, I walked away from this session reinvigorated by the positive direction that education is moving toward. Striving for equity through personalizing learning is more than just “the next big thing”. It’s a choice to stop allowing some students to miss out on the game altogether, by providing them the support and opportunities they require to make necessary gains in learning.

Of course, digital solutions are making personalized learning increasingly possible (even as class sizes grow), but truly achieving equity in education requires more than just the right tools. It also involves a shift in mindset—from one that is fixed on a particular set of tried-and-true teaching strategies to one that adapts to the changing needs of learners today. Elevating the need for equity in turn drives the impetus behind infusing varied pace, choice, and preferences in your larger instructional strategy.

No matter how you look at it, personalized learning requires all of these pieces, coming together to form one interconnected picture of educational innovation—and without any given piece, the puzzle is incomplete.

 Looking for more resources to help elevate equity in education? Check out these 6 steps from Edutopia.