Personalized Learning: Lessons to Get the Message Right

This article was originally published by ExcelinEd

Interest in personalized learning continues to surge all across the country. However, not everyone understands what personalized learning looks like or the changes it will necessitate, and people are often wary of what they don’t understand. So how we talk about personalized learning can either engage families or push them away.

Education Elements and ExcelinEd have been working to support schools and policymakers to identify the support and policies needed to successfully implement personalized learning – and we’ve learned some important lessons. We have consistently heard how difficult it can be to build community support for a long-term transition to this innovative strategy. Knowing this, ExcelinEd conducted a national survey of 800 voters to try and gauge voters’ understanding of personalized learning and why it may interest them.

In response to what we learned from this survey of message testing, ExcelinEd and EdElements teamed up to provide district leaders with a guide on how to talk about personalized learning in a way that all stakeholders can see the vision, the need for change and ultimately champion the idea of personalizing learning for students.

Today, we are excited to release the results of this work in a new white paper, Communicating Personalized Learning to Families and Stakeholders: Terminology, Tools and Tips for Success. In this guide, we provide readers with engaging messaging, define the best messengers, and provide a set of lessons learned. For all of those who appreciate the movie trailer as much as they like the movie, here is a teaser.

Top 5 Messages to Highlight


Top 5 Messages Better Left Unsaid

Focus on the future. Families know that students must be adequately prepared for a rapidly changing future. The idea that personalized learning will help them do so resonated well.   Everything is going to change. Families and stakeholders worry change will happen too quickly. Be careful to not frighten parents with changes that may or may not even happen.
Knowledge and skills. Families know exactly what students need for this uncertain future: knowledge and skills. Messages that the goal of personalized learning is to ensure a graduate will be prepared with the knowledge and skills they need and that student progress in school will be based on these were strongly approved.   Schools are outdated.Families reacted much better to the idea of schools being inadequate than old.
Highlight benefits to families. Personalized learning will provide greater transparency and help families better understand the needs and progress of their students.   Standardized testing…or any testingEducators know the difference between summative and formative but parents don’t.  Be careful to not inadvertently describe your new initiative as an increase in testing.
Highlight benefits to studentsStudents will be encouraged to play a greater role – and be more invested in their learning. Personalized learning enables students and families to develop stronger relationships with teachers and peers.

Make it personal. Personalized learning benefits students by meeting their needs and increasing their ownership of their learning. The idea of personalized learning helping students tested very well in messaging.

  Student agency, choice and voice.  While it’s a good idea, it translates into images of chaos. There are other ways to explain this better. Remember these are also terms only familiar to educators – avoid jargon.
Highlight benefits to teachers. Personalized learning gives teachers the flexibility and tools they need to support each student.   TechnologyYou can reference it but if it is your starting point or your end goal, stakeholders will worry about technology replacing teachers and screen time taking over.

We hope these tips and tools help educators and education leaders successfully transition from a one-size-fits-all system to one that truly recognizes the unique differences, strengths and interests of each student. This is what families want and students need.

Check out the white paper for the complete report on what we learned and how it can impact the movement toward personalized learning.

For more, see:

Amy Jenkins is the COO at Education Elements. She started her career as a middle school teacher, co-founded the local branch of a non-profit after-school program, and worked at both NewSchools Venture Fund and Monitor before joining Education Elements. Connect with her on Twitter: @amyyjenkins 

Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the Policy Director for Personalized Learning at ExcelinEd. Previously, she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent of Policy and Programs at the Arizona Department of Education. Karla also served as the Education Policy Advisor for Governor Brewer and as the Vice-Chair of Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. Connect with her on Twitter: @azkarla

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Karla Phillips-Krivickas

Karla Phillips-Krivickas is the Senior Director of Policy at Knowledgeworks and a member of the Getting Smart advisory board.

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