What If Kids Co-Created Customized Learning Pathways?

New tools are making it easier to customize learning for every student. Playlists, projects, and portfolios support big blocks, maker spaces, and flex schools. One thing I appreciate about the Christensen Institute definition of blended learning is that it stresses student agency by requiring “student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” During an EdSession in Boise tomorrow, I’ll be discussing 10 ways that students can co-create customized learning pathways.
1. Projects. The most common personalization strategy is project-based learning. High Tech High is the best example (see projects, practices, and publications).  Check out our new paper, Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day, for a profile of 20 great project-based schools.  Also, we recently posted a short primer onPerformance Assessment (and next month will publish a full guide on tools for better projects).
2. Makerspace. The simple act of encouraging kids to make stuff can be transformative. In the last few years there has been an explosion of maker resources and networks–and we’ve been covering it on GettingSmart.com. Here’s a small sample:

3. Adaptive learning. Systems that combine adaptive assessment and targeted tutoring (e.g., i-ReadyDreamboxReasoning MindALEKS) are widely used to personalize pathways particularly in math.
Visual game-based ST Math helps students learn by doing and benefit from instructional feedback when they make mistakes.
Some content providers (e.g., Compass Learning and Pearson’s GradPoint ) use adaptive and diagnostic assessments to create personalized learning paths across the curriculum.
A number of open platforms–including ActivateInstructionGooruOpenEd, and PowerMyLearning— allow teachers to build playlists of resources.
4. Profiles & Portfolios. As outlined in a Digital Learning Now paper, Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles the key to customized learning is comprehensive learner profiles. Learner profiles include portfolios, a digital collection of a student’s best work. (See Getting Smart features on eduClipperPathbrite, and Google Drive.)
5. Big blocks. Tagore prayed for a place, “Where knowledge is free / Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.” Instead, most high schools have lost their way in the “dreary desert sand of dead habit.” Big blocks of time create the space to ask big questions.
Big History Project is great content for a big integrated exploration of history, science, and social studies (read about how DSST uses it). Our new Deeper Learning paper describes how New Tech schools use big integrated blocks to engage students.
6. Competency-based progressions. When students are asked to show what they know and progress based on demonstrated mastery, it improves agency, engagement, and outcomes. CompetencyWorks is an online community, hosted by iNACOL, is devoted to competency education and a great resource.
A system of micro-credentials, or badges, could open up many ways for secondary and postsecondary students to learn. Here’s a sketch of what a DIY High might look like.
7. Flex schools. Combining on the online backbone, flex schools take advantage of onsite guidance and support–and sometimes leverage community assets. Miami-Dade has a network of 8 iPrep flex high schools. There are at least 10 Reasons Every District Should Open a Flex School.
8. Community as School. Big Picture and Edvisions are two high school networks that leverage community-based learning. Service learning can be a great way to build efficacy, agency and a track record of success in making a contribution. At Tacoma School of the Arts students ride a trolley car between museums, theaters, UW Tacoma and their home base.
9. Work-based learning. For students, being around people they can imagine themselves becoming (per Debbie Meier) is invaluable. The Cristo Rey Network makes a work study part of every week. Here is a recap of a conversation with Jobs for the Future about Best Practices in Work-Based Learning.
10.Online Learning. Self-blend options can help students accelerate or catch up. It’s now easy and affordable to offer every 30 Advanced Placement classes, 6 world languages, and hundreds of electives.
All of this customization requires a robust guidance and support systems to make sure that choices add up to college and career readiness. (We’ll publish a paper on next-gen guidance systems next month.)
Customized learning is for teachers too! Every teacher should have an individual development plan (like the ones available on Bloomboard) connected to a library of digital resources.
Looking ahead. The intersection of interest-based (for me) and standards-base (for degree) is the most interesting and fertile intersection of our time.

For Me For Degree
Driver Interest Credential
Goal Satisfaction Standard
Time Anytime Scheduled
Location Anywhere School
Control Learner Institution

If we’re clear about a few priority outcomes for students it opens up many high engagement pathways. Badging and micro-credentialing will recognize achievement in nontraditional pathways.
Rather than terminal degrees it will become more common to think of degrees as a commencement of lifelong learning marked by badges, references, and artifacts of personal bests.
MIND Research Institute, CompassLearning, Curriculum Associates and Dreambox are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners.  Tom Vander Ark is a director at iNACOL and a partner at Learn Capital where eduClipper and DIY are portfolio companies. 

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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1 Comment

Karen Mahon

Tom, I love this idea of thinking of adaptive learning as "co-created," because you're right...that's exactly what it is! The learner, through patterns of responding, creates, with the adaptive algorithms, his or her own customized learning path through the curriculum. One of my big frustrations lately is what I think of as a false dichotomy between "content" apps and "creation" apps. This really helps me think of creativity in a new and expanded way. I think, using this approach, there is definitely an argument to be made that apps with adaptive learning strategies are, in fact, creative. Thank you!

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