Personalized Learning: Object, Lesson, Course & School

My car adjusts the seat, mirror and steering wheel to my identified preferences.  iTunes Genius knows the music I like. facebook knows the personal connections that are important to me.  Education has always been very personal, but new tools and new schools make it easier to personalize learning.

Manipulatives bring math to life in HyderabadEducation

There’s lots of talk about personalized learning these days.  It shows up in a lot of school plans, i3 grants, and individual development plans. Wikipedia even has a definition: “Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners.”
That’s a good start, but I’d like to add a couple layers to the definition.  Educators often talk about personalization at the lessons level where “accommodations” are made for reading level and English language learners.   Projects have long been a great way to differentiate and leverage student interest.
In a digital learning environment, personalization at the lesson level can be a choice between small group instruction, online tutoring, a simulation or a learning game.  School of One is a good example of targeting lessons by level, interest, and modality.
Social learning platforms like Edmodo* make it easy for teachers to personalize assignments.  Higher ed social tools like GoingOn turns courseware into community conversations.
Adaptive content makes it possible to personalize not just to the lesson but down to the learning object.    Adaptive math products like Dreambox, ReasoningMind and MangaHigh* string together learning objects based on student performance and provide instant feedback.
Digital learning increasingly allows personalization at the course level.  Students can choose an online course when it’s not offered at their school or want a different alternative.  Dropout recovery academies like AdvancePath* or Performance Learning Centers allow students to pick the courses they want to work and work at their own pace.
Good schools all personalize the learning by making sure every student feels known and respected.  An advisory structure provides frequent points of contact and support.  With the steady growth of schools of choice, students often have the choice of personalized schools with themes matching personal and career interests.
Layers of personalization that work together are likely to build engagement, confidence, persistence, and achievement. A new generation of tools is  making it possible to make learning more personal and more productive.
* Revolution portfolio company

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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I mean the comment you deleted in which I mention your use of asterisks as your way of being open and honest about your financial stake in Edmodo, which you tweeted about yesterday without mentioning you own it. Why won't you post that comment?


Tom Vander Ark

Happy to post all constructive comments. As I replied to you, I try to disclose all board/client/investment relationships in my blogs (as above), but it's a little harder in Twitter.
In addition to being Frustrated, you seem opposed to all private sector involvement in learning, and there we have a fundamental disagreement. I'm interested in quality at scale and believe the private sector has a role in producing and scaling innovation. That's why I advocate for and invest in education entrepreneurs. My views are more fully spelled out in this AEI paper,


I am opposed to folks trying to make a profit from what should be excluded from profit-making. The two biggest sectors that I think should be excluded are education and healthcare.
So yes, I am basically opposed to the private sector's involvement in education. Especially given what we have seen since NCLB; forcing states to compete for money, demanding states make charter schools easier to charter (even though it has been shown charters are no better--often worse--than traditional public schools), and the big money being used to force schools to act as business (big money being spent by folks who know little if anything about teaching).
Yeah, you could say I am frustrated with it all.
About the whole Edmodo thing, I just thought it was a bit misleading to tout it without disclosing, explicitly (not hidden on your website) that you are a principal. Not everyone knows who you are or where you come from. I just wanted it to be clear, which is why I commented earlier (the one you didn't post).
If you were to take a year off and go teach in an inner city school, I would be more receptive to hearing what you have to say. Until then, you are just one of the reformers written about in the new Civil Rights on EASA document put out today.
Given your twitter account describes you as an edu-entrepreneur, I can't help but think you are in it to make money; if it helps kids, that's just a bonus.
That is how I feel about stuff. I hope this at least clarifies where I am coming from (though my blog makes that pretty clear, too.)
Peace and equality!!


Tom Vander Ark

I spent 5 years in a school district and a decade trying to help scale more than 400 nonprofits. It's tough for nonprofits and districts to do R&D and they are not well suited to bringing innovation to scale. Private capital is better suited to producing and scaling innovation than public capital. Philanthropic capital can take a long view, promote equity, and mitigate risk. Each form of capital has unique benefits and limitation--we need a healthy mix
When 2/3 of US kids leave school unprepared, we need entrepreneurs willing to work inside and outside that system to create better ways to teach, learn, recruit, and lead.
that requires innovation and business model

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