Allow Students to Choose… Or Lose

Allow Students to Choose… Or Lose first appeared on Navigator from CompassLearning on November 21, 2013.
By: Dr. David Palumbo
Choice. It’s an emerging concept that, I believe, will have the biggest impact on education in both the short and long term.
Choice in education comes in many different flavors. The biggest and most lasting choice students (along with their parents) have to make is what kind of school they want to attend. Historically, this has been dictated primary by geography, but other variables are rapidly emerging. Today’s students are asking: Do I want to go to a public, private, charter, magnet, same gender, parochial, or virtual school?
The next level is course choice: Do I want to take my calculus class at my high school? At the local community college? Online?  And, next are educational materials: Do I choose to learn calculus via a textbook, video lecture, simulation, online content?
In more progressive education systems, students are already being given the option to answer these questions differently, from course to course. And, they’re becoming more comfortable participating in this decision making rather than relying on the education system to decide for them. Consequently, they’re responding with diverse answers like, “I’m getting my economics course content online for the AP exam. I’m taking English at my high school as part of the IB curriculum. And, I’m getting history credits at a community college.”
A perfect illustration of this transition is happening in my own family. A long time ago when I attended University of Michigan, I earned all the credits required for my undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, sitting in classrooms on campus in Ann Arbor. Today, each of my kids is going to graduate with a college degree by amassing  IB and AP credits from their high school, community college credits through courses taken there, credits from multiple universities here and abroad, and MOOC credits generated through online participation. So, while the name of the institute they’re actually “attending” will appear on their diplomas, they will have earned credits from four to five different places. They will personally orchestrate this through choices they make from the educational opportunities available to them. And this is rapidly becoming the “norm” not the”exception.”
This notion of choice is  going to continue to expand, and present itself in interesting combinations. Maybe the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m./five days a week high school schedule doesn’t work for me. And, what if I choose not to start the school year in August and go through May? There are so many variables that have been set in stone for hundreds of years which required students to adapt to the rules of the institutions.
Now, technology completely knocks down these barriers, restrictions, and limitations, allowing us to truly personalize our learning environments and the paths we will take to secure our future. Choice brings customization. Customization brings personalization. Personalization brings engagement, ownership, and success.
Today’s consumers expect and demand choice. These expectations are migrating more than ever before into the education marketplace. The education systems and institutions that recognize and accommodate this reality will be the ones that thrive.
Are your students being offered alternatives to the status quo? If so, how? And, what outcomes are you seeing as a result of these choices?
Dr. David Palumbo is VP of Professional Services for Compass Learning. As evidenced by his resume – which includes teacher, research scholar, academic administrator, entrepreneur, and corporate executive – David is passionate about the business of learning: the people, processes, and technology that work together to help students learn better and faster.
CompassLearning is a Getting Smart Advocacy Partner.

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