One Size Fits

Personalized learning as part of your learning genome.

GUEST COLUMN | by Brian Peddle

“Education shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all, it should be one-size-fits-one.” -Brian Peddle

credit-motivis-learningThere is extensive evidence that demonstrates traditional education is not adequately preparing our students for successful careers in the 21st century. Somewhere between 28 to 40 percent of undergraduate students require remedial coursework to remain viable in their studies. The need for such extensive remediation is unfortunately indicative that K-12 is not preparing students adequately for the rigors of college. We also hear regularly from employers that  only 20 percent of recent graduates are entering the workforce very prepared to perform in the 21st-century workplace.

Schools today must focus on where the student is on their learning journey and where they are going.

These statistics are the very reason why we need to get away from the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of 19th century, factory-model education. Thankfully, we now have the technological means to deliver truly customized learning that provides students with the education that they need to enter the workforce confidently prepared.

Learners today are learning by engaging with the global community. When learners want to learn how to do something or want to investigate, they go to Google, YouTube, Khan Academy, etc., and select specifically what they want to learn. The use of technology in this way has significantly altered the minds of modern learners and their attitudes about learning. Each individual learner has unique learning needs and are used to on-demand, self-motivated learning driven by an authentic need to acquire new skills, abilities and knowledge. Learning is happening everywhere. When a learner seeks out that knowledge on their own because they are interested in a specific topic — think about how powerful that is; it becomes relevant. Personal and relevant learning means effective learning.

When schools confine learning to four walls, and specific times based on the institutional needs, they are delivering one-size-fits-all education that perpetuates the failure to prepare learners for success. In order to avoid sending a student down a learning path that doesn’t help them achieve their goals and reach their destination, schools today must focus on where the student is on their learning journey and where they are going. It is important to fully understand their destination and how to help them chart the best road, based on their individual needs, to find success. Providing this individualized learning pathway requires schools to also focus on the data, or coordinates, that will be used to plot the students’ learning progression. Each learning path is as unique as the student, therefore the resources needed by one student to learn new skills, abilities and knowledge should be unique to them.

To make education one-size-fits-one, learning is served up that addresses each student’s unique learning needs. Formative assessment and prior learning assessment, artificial intelligence and adaptive rubrics can begin to deliver truly personalized learning specific to individual needs.

Many institutions have a very siloed technology infrastructure that reflects a siloed university. There are dozens if not hundreds of pieces of software in place, and they usually have varying degrees of integration and interoperability. This makes it challenging to pull data and pull it in ways that are meaningful for the learner.  We are awash with data but how much of that makes its way back to the student?  It is pretty shocking how little does. Change is coming. Having an agile platform that serves as a system of engagement or intelligence and provides easy, real-time access to all parties (administration, educators, coaches, and most importantly, students) is an incredibly powerful foundation for schools to start from and build a customized learning experience for each of their learners.

How do we get there?

“Things are going to start happening to me now.” -Steve Martin

It is already starting to happen. One of our clients, VLACS, delivers individualized learning by providing students with virtual “backpacks” that students fill with the competencies that they need and want to master. They select from an almost limitless combination of courses, projects, collaborative work, experiences like internships and even dual enrollment credit from college. This effectively enables students to drive their own education and take ownership of their learning.  Giving students voice and advocacy ensures engagement and an education that is specific to their individual learning needs. Student engagement is both a strategic process for learning and an accountability outcome unto itself. The bottom line, personalization paves the way for student success.

In higher education many colleges have started to lay the foundation for a personalized learning experience. As schools begin to create competency-based programs, they are decoupling projects and assignments from traditional courses and mapping them right to competencies.  Competencies that can then be reassembled to fill in gaps of knowledge and skills. Imagine being in the workforce for five years and you have your eye on a new position. Companies like mine will be able to examine the delta between your current competencies, which have been built up from your education, work and life experiences, and what is required of your future role. A school that has gone through that decoupling process can then recommend a personalized learning journey for you. That journey may not include a full course as it does today. It will include projects and assignments made up from the competencies you need. Eventually those competencies could turn into a formal nanodegree, microdegree or some other credential that is stackable.

Over the course of a lifetime, a learner’s needs change as they continuously gain new skills and knowledge and set their sights on new career goals and challenges. Every individual is different and as cognitive science continues to evolve, we are closing in on a deeper understanding of each person’s individual learning genome. It is an exciting time to be in education and the application of these sciences are in their infancy. The good news is steps are being taken today to support learning for life and a one-size-fits-one education.

Brian Peddle is CEO at Motivis Learning, a leading provider of Learning Relationship Management, Networking & School Community, and Student Information Systems solutions. The company was born out of the Innovation Lab at Southern New Hampshire University. The lab listed at #12 in Fast Company’s 2012 “World’s Most Innovative Companies List” and was founded to disrupt current models, reduce costs, and increase access to higher education for underserved students.

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