Leo Babauta post (via Milton Ramirez tweet) recites the failings of the age cohort-batch process-compliance rewarding system knows worldwide.  The system fails to prepare about two-thirds of American kids–all but the compliant and well supported.  And, as Leo points out, while we talk about innovation and creativity, we still have a system with the opposite values.

Leo’s solution is unschooling.  I’m a little less organic than zen mater Leo, but completely agree that we need to stand the system on its head and start with the students.  The closest thing we’ve got to unschooling at any scale is Big Picture , a network of 70  individualize secondary schools.  Sweden has an individualize chainof 30 schools called Kunskapsskolan.

With nearly 2 million kids learning on line this fall, we’ve taken a step in the individualized direction, but nearly all online learning is still a slog through static content.

Things will get really interesting when we have smart recommendation engines, like iTunes Genius, that understand a learner’s level by subject, interests and motivational scheme, and best learning modality.   With a world of tagged free and proprietary content, a ‘Genius’ allows us to rethink everything and, as Leo suggests, stand the system on its head.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


  1. just to ‘unschool/de-batch’ is not enough; to replace existing practice with the ICT component that appears to be at the centre of all discussions on personalised learning, is not enough.

    The solution will require the ‘smart recognition’ systems that you identify to support the learner but I would add something about learner aspirations + national expectations to your list [understand a learner’s level by subject, interests and motivational scheme, and best learning modality.] unless that is one component of the learner’s ‘aspirational scheme’?


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