How Will Personalized Learning Really Work?

“How will personalized learning really  work?” The question was asked today by someone who should know the answer—the strategy director for an educational software company.  But that’s the nature of the dynamic shift underway.  There are 10 things up for grabs when it comes to personalized learning:

  1. Access device: what and when?
  2. Ecosystem: are we picking one set of apps over another?
  3. Will ebooks replace the traditional role of textbooks as the adopted curriculum?
  4. How will content libraries (not the physical kind although we did discuss those as well) work?
  5. What about OER?  Will systems be open, closed, or combinations?
  6. How will content be curated?  Will every teacher do their own thing?
  7. How will data capture work across different web and mobile apps?
  8. How will we visualize and recognition steps of achievement?
  9. Who will develop the recommendation engines?
  10. Is the LMS dead?  Should we build monolithic systems or components?

There is growing consensus about descriptions of personal digital learning but many open questions. That makes it a confusing time.
If you’re a school leader, here are 10 questions  that will help you pick the right platform. If you’re a teacher, try Edmodo, it’s easy to use, free, and you’ll find lots of lessons and content from other teachers and publishers.
If you’re a software developer, here’s a little advice

  1. Leverage a big channel partner: the Pearson sales force, the 5 million Edmodo users, the Facebook consumer base, or the growing iPad ecosystem
  2. Develop lean and listen hard to customer feedback (or bring a big bank account with your inspired vision)
  3. Make as much free as you can and build users/relationships
  4. Pilot with a couple schools with some capacity
  5. Gather some data, repeat.

There are 10 elements of learning platform ecosystems  but I still think they will orbit around two critical components

  • Recommendation engines: the ability to produce a customized playlist for every student every day will be a core personalization capability
  • Achievement recognition systems: managing competency-based environments will require systems of standard-aligned benchmark assessments and a big gradebooks to deposit evidence—game scores, papers, projects, quizzes and more—and badges or bar charts—a visual dash board of achievement that monitors and motivates progress.
And, since it’s Digital Learning Day, today would be a good day to advocate for the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning. I’m in Columbus today with my friends at KnowledgeWorks.  The Ohio legislature has taken steps to improve access to full and part time online learning–real progress to making sure every student has access to great teachers and courses.  But now it’s time to power student options with funding that follows the student.
Personalized learning is coming to a school near you but it will take a variety of forms as the tool set and policy set matures. It’s time for you to be an advocate and an edupreneur!
Disclosure: Edmodo is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom is a partner.  

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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Brett Long

Helpful, at least this gives me some keywords and concepts to search for. I'm busy producing content but need a better teaching process and would like to build on the work of others.


Tom, this is an excellent and succinct piece, kudos on distilling the essence of the personalized learning problem.

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