10 Customization Strategies

1. Differentiation. Good teachers have always differentiated instruction.  Social learning platforms like Edmodo* make it easy for teachers to grab an assignment from a content library, make individual student modifications, and manage the assignment.
2. Grouping. Success for All, based on work done at Johns Hopkins beginning in 1987, made common the practice of performance grouping based on frequent assessment.  SFA requires structural, not just instructional, changes in schools enabling the creation of multi-age reading groups with similar reading levels.  Burst, from Wireless Generation, helps automate performance grouping.
3. Pacing. AdvancePath* and Performance Learning Centers (PLC), created by Communities In Schools, are networks of dropout prevention academies serving over-aged and under-credited students.  Students select online courses and work at their own pace with the support of onsite teachers.  Students earn credits at an accelerated rate and graduate on time. Thousands of school districts now offer credit recovery options online, some with support from AdvancePath* or Communities in Schools.
4. Level: Finding a student’s instructional level is important because that’s where they learn best—just enough challenge but not too much.  Education is a decade behind games, but adaptive secondary math curriculum like Carnegie Learning and Reasoning Mind is promising; adaptive learning games MangaHigh* are gaining viral adoption, and adaptive primary math products like Dreambox power the high performing Rocketship network.
5. Mode: With the explosion of instructional content, it is becoming easier for students to choose the most effective instructional modality for them: recorded tutorials (KahnAcademy.org), live tutoring (Tutor.com), short videos (BrightStorm.com), games (Funbrain.com), lectures (AcademicEarth.com), text with voice over (Hippocampus.org), Flexbooks for e-readers (CK12.org).
6. Playlist: Soon there will be several platforms with smart engines that, like School of One, recommend the right lesson in the right mode and the right time.  They will build smart mixed-mode playlists that will eventually include more than skill building exercises.  Second gen playlists will include  integration, application, and extension opportunities.
7. Interest: games and virtual environments will allow students to create their own avatars and to ‘skin’ the experience based on their own interests.
8. Guidance: as choice extends to the course and lesson level, smart systems will help students make good choices.  They will boost college and career awareness starting in intermediate grades.  And they will play an eHarmony and LinkedIn function in support of the all-important post secondary decision.
9. Location: online and blended learning makes education less location dependent.  Families can travel together more often.  With portable education, schools and students can take more advantage of community assets like museums, theaters, and natural resources.
10. Application: networks like Big Picture dig until they find student interest, then they build an internship around it. Science fairs are another example of encouraging students to go deep in a particular area of interest.
All of these choices will need to be supported by a rich student profile that captures a lot more data than today’s SIS.  The flood of content-embedded assessment and data from customized digital experiences make it time for Data Quality Campaign 2.0—the digital learning frontier.
* a Learn Capital 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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