“Personalized learning” can seem like one of those educational buzz-phrases that is difficult to unpack and understand. But, let me offer an entry point into this concept. Personalized learning is about approaching learning from the perspective of the learner, rather than the perspective of the teacher, just as we do as adults in the course of our lives every day.
Consider this everyday challenge: the lightbulb in the headlight of your car burns out. How are you going to fix it? Go ahead, write down your first step. Now, write down your next step.
I’ve done this activity with close to a thousand educators this year. The answers they’ve given span a range: “Finding a YouTube video for my car’s make and model,” “Heading to the car manual first,” “Not messing with it; going to the dealership,” “Easy, I already know how to do this,” “I’m just going to start unscrewing things,” “My spouse takes care of these things.”
As adults, we make personalized choices every day about how we learn new skills and acquire new information. We know there are many viable and good “pathways” to reaching the learning objective.
The choice that we make in terms of what pathway we choose for changing the lightbulb is typically based on three factors: the situation (time, speed needed, challenge level, etc.), our prior experience, and our go-to-problem solving strategies (some of us are more comfortable following directions on YouTube, others of us want the step-by-step from a manual).
As educators, we know that there are many good and viable pathways towards reaching the learning objectives in our classrooms, too. There are many ways to understand how a bill becomes a law, or how to solve a mathematical equation. It’s just that we often choose the pathway for our students, rather than giving students all of the pathway options and giving them agency. Why? What if we gave them choice? I’ll explore that next month.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)