Monday, June 26, 2006

What is this thing called 'Personalised Learning'

  Posted by Picasa The Minister of Education is going to introduce the idea of ‘personalization of learning’ to the annual gathering of Primary School Principal at Napier next week.

What exactly does it mean?

The dream that has underpinned Western society for the last century was 'mass' education for all students up until the age of 15. This has been achieved but for far too many students it has become a 'mass nightmare' with up to 20% of our students still leaving with little to show for their compulsory attendance.

The trouble relates to mindsets.

Early education, for all ages, was built on a simple concept of transmission of ideas from the old to the young – and for many years it only involved the three ‘Rs’ – reading , 'riting and 'rithmetic ( a fourth could’ve been regurgitation). Only the wealthy gained a more ‘well rounded’ education. For most it was simply ‘training’ to fit into jobs required by an industrial society; and for those who failed school manual labor was readily available. Schools, particularly secondary schools, were modeled on industrial factories and run efficiently with bells, timetables, separate subjects and punishment. As a result many tudents today, according to an industrial aged metaphor, are ‘disengaged’.

The introduction of NCEA has softened the failure concept but so far has not changed the industrial structures or 'mindsets'. In many cases it has simply futher fragmented learning but there is potential to be realized.

Progressive thinking, representing a more personalized approach, slowly entered the early years of learning but so far has made little impression on the secondary system. Even in the more 'child centred' primary schools the idea of developing, for each learner, their own curriculums based on their interests and concerns is rarely found. Teachers, and ‘their’ curriculums, still shape the learning of the children in primary schpols and the ‘three Rs’ still reign supreme.

Our Minister, talking about personalization, says the system must become learner centred and that we need to put the learner at the heart of all that is done. This, he believes, is a 'radical' proposal, one that will assist in transforming our (industrial aged) society. He continues, to develop a 21stC culture of continuous inquiry, innovation, risk taking and entrepreneurship, schools need to lead the change.

Personalization, no matter how you dress it up,basically means adapting the school to the unique needs of the students, rather that current practice of making students conform to school requirements - like a modern day 'Procrustean bed' - 'one size must fit all'.

There was a time in the 70 s when this dream shone brightly but it was extinguished by the power of the ‘status quo’ and a lack of appropriate conditions.

Perhaps now, as we enter the Information Age where the new ‘capital’ is the human talent, the time is right. And, as our fragmented Industrial Aged institutions are patently not coping (including secondary schools), personalization is urgent. Added to this is the failure of a 'market forces' approach which has eroded valuable human capital in the name of competition and efficiency. To add to the problem the technocratic top down curriculums, imposed in the 90s, are now seen as failing.

Personalization offers us a chance to throw off the shackles of conformity, control and compliance and to imagine, create, innovate and to do something exciting; a chance to develop the unique talents of all students.

This will require new ‘mindsets’. ‘Mindsets’ that focus on creating condition to assist all students realize their own special mix of talents, passions, and dreams

The concept of personalization will be rather scary for those brought up in an environment of ‘top down’ authority and control. It will require a belief in people, given the right conditions, to do appropriate things and to continually improve. Life in this new environment is always ‘next time’.

It is pretty obvious that some people (both teachers and parents) will find this hard to accept or to cope with.

I guess there will need to be a transition period. At first teachers could listen to their students ‘voices’ and begin to value their questions and current understandings. Such teachers will 'evolve' into learning advisers, or ‘coaches’ and come along side their students to help each learner ‘co-construct’ their own meanings.

It will become obvious that both teachers and students will need to work in teams sharing their creative intelligences and that school structures will need to change to allow this collaborative approach to happen. When modern information technology is added to this mix learning will be 'amplified'.

True personalization will only occur when each student is assisted to develop their own curriculum – their own 'individualized learning plan'. This does not mean students will work alone but that they will balance individual inquiry with group or team projects. It does mean that students need to study topics of interest in depth and express, or communicate, their ideas in range of creative ways to a wider audience.

Curriculum and tasks will ‘emerge’ from student’s questions, concerns and queries. Teachers and students, utilizing community resources and expertise, will become the norm as school turn themselves into democratic ‘learning communities’.

There are schools, at all levels, that are already doing this. It is tapping into, and sharing their expertise ,that will be the key to transformation, not ideas imposed from the top.

This would be ‘radical’ transformation. Let’s hope 'personalization' captures our imagination. It is a chance to help each learner be the best they can be. It would make both teaching and learning ‘stretching’ and fun.

It would require leadership and courage at all levels – none the least the Ministers.


Anonymous said...

This 'personalisation' sounds wonderful - and needs to applied across all government services.

Integrated systems need to be developed to ensure all people receive the services they need.Too many people just fall through the 'cracks' or receive assistance without any obligation.

To do this we would have to transform all the creaky institutions with their genesis in a outwarn industrial age.

Take a brave government to do such a thing!

Anonymous said...

If this just means individualizing the current programmes nothing much will change - the quality of personalisation depends on what the school is offering and if they are able to develop ways to discover and extend students talents.
The extra curricular activities should become the curriculum!

Bruce said...

It will be interesting to see what exactly the Minister says next week. And then what he does to set up the conditions to see it happen.