Listening to Dr. Yong Zhao recently at a conference, he talked about the idea of “”individualized” and “personalized” learning. This is how I understood the differences between the two:
“individualized” learning is having students go through different paths to get to the same end point. How you get there is different, but the destination is the same.
“Personalized” learning is having students go through their own paths to whatever endpoint they desire. How you take the path and where you end up is totally dependent upon the strengths and interests of the learner.
So which path should schools focus on? Honestly, there should be both elements in the process of school as we know it.
Individualized learning only works if the learner has ownership on the way they get to a certain point. Currently, we are tied to a curriculum, but the way we achieve objectives is open-ended. For example, if a student needs to show their understanding of a science objective, aren’t there several ways that this can happen? Podcasts, videos, written assignments, whatever, can all be suggestions that are made to the student, but as a teacher, I would always leave the option of “other ways that you see suitable to share your learning on this objective”. This allowed for students to go above and beyond what I could think of on my own, and gave them autonomy on the process.
Personalized learning really taps into the passions of students. Initiatives like “Genius Hour“, “Edcamps for Students“, “Innovation Week”, or “Identity Day” provide opportunities for students to really shine and share what they are interested in. Although these activities should not be simply an “event”, it is important that we do implement them at some level with our students as a starting point in schools to show how powerful these opportunities are in the first place.
Both of these elements of “individualized” and “personalized” learning should be evident in the environments in our school, and our crucial to student success both during and after their time in school.
When a student leaves school, they should not only have a comprehension of what they have learned, but more importantly, how they learn. Isn’t that what we are striving for?
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