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Redesigning Learning: The Urgency of Personalized Education for Every Child, Every Day

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Dr. David Richards

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, a seismic shift is underway, and it’s not just about personalized learning anymore. The convergence of technology and a fundamental shift in pedagogy towards personalized, competency-based learning is reshaping the educational landscape. This transformation isn’t a fleeting trend but an imperative to redesign education, emphasizing urgency. It’s about ensuring that every child receives an education tailored to their unique needs and aspirations while recognizing the significant role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play, both as a supplement and a potential course content supplanter. It’s about recognizing the new reality that society has a very different ask of our learning communities and it’s focused on customization and flexibility.

The Traditional Classroom Paradigm

Historically, education followed a one-size-fits-all model where students of varying abilities, interests, and backgrounds were taught in a uniform manner. This traditional approach assumed that all students would learn at the same pace and in the same way, often setting aside the fact that every child is unique. For decades, educators have expressed a desire and intent to “differentiate” for every child in a classroom, but the reality was class sizes, a lack of resources, and traditional instructional models simply prevented that from occurring. It’s a system that leaves many students feeling disengaged, undervalued, and underprepared for the complexities of the real world. Research has clearly shown that to prepare students for the future of work, we need to transform our traditional learning model to one which embraces mastery and focuses on students applying knowledge in real world scenarios. It isn’t that our schools are broken. Rather, our schools need to be re-designed where we combine the best of what we have traditionally offered to students with the emergence of new models of learning.

The Rise of Personalized Learning

The seeds of personalized learning were sown as educators and researchers began to question the efficacy of this one-size-fits-all approach. They recognized that technology could be harnessed to provide a more tailored educational experience, and with the advent of computers, the internet, and artificial intelligence, personalized learning started to take root. Personalized learning represents a radical departure from the outdated paradigm of 50 minute classes and students advancing based upon seat time. At its core, personalized learning is about recognizing that each child is a unique individual with distinct learning preferences and capabilities. It’s about harnessing the power of technology and adopting a new pedagogical approach to tailor education for every child, every day. It’s about providing educators with the freedom to take intentional risks to increase student engagement, accelerate academic success, and graduate learners who have demonstrated mastery beyond traditional assessments.

The Emergence of Competency-Based Learning

Competency-based learning represents a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. In this model, students advance based on their mastery of skills and knowledge rather than merely by completing a set timeframe. It’s a shift towards a more outcome-focused education, where students are empowered to progress as they demonstrate competence, ensuring a deeper understanding and a more meaningful learning journey. In this model, student engagement increases as students embrace ownership of their learning through agency in the learning process.

Technology and Competency-Based Learning

The rapid advancement of technology has facilitated the rise of competency-based learning. For years, we have spent millions of dollars in our schools to provide students with access to technology. While done with good intentions, it has often simply been a tool to accomplish the same traditional tasks but in a digital format. By appropriately leveraging technology and strategic resources, educators now have access to:

  1. Customized Learning Pathways: Competency-based learning leverages technology to create customized learning pathways for each student. AI algorithms help identify individual learning gaps and strengths, allowing for the tailoring of educational content and experiences to meet specific needs. By doing so, students are presented with personalized pathways on their learning journey. In addition, classroom teachers are provided with a digital assistant which closes the gap between student and academic support.
  2. Continuous Assessment: Unlike traditional education that relies heavily on periodic exams, competency-based learning employs continuous assessment methods. Technology enables real-time tracking of students’ progress, providing immediate feedback and support when needed. Digital dashboards can provide progress monitoring that is real time, graphically displayed, and provides the learner with critical feedback to achieve success at the next level.
  3. Mastery Learning: Competency based learning promotes mastery of skills and concepts before progressing to more advanced content. AI-driven systems can pinpoint areas where a student may need additional practice or exploration. This allows the student to increase their depth of knowledge while developing a rich understanding of the content.

AI’s Role in Personalized and Competency-Based Learning

Artificial Intelligence stands at the forefront of this educational revolution, offering a dual role in supplementing and potentially supplanting course content:

  1. AI as a Supplement: AI can significantly enhance the learning experience by providing personalized recommendations for resources, adaptive quizzes, and immediate feedback. It can assist educators in identifying gaps in individual student understanding and suggest interventions tailored to their needs. AI-powered virtual tutors can be available 24/7 to support students, supplementing the teacher’s role. By doing so, students are able to “move on when ready” and staff are able to allocate precious academic support time to students who may need a deeper level of intervention.
  2. AI as a Content Supplanter: With the continuous advancement of AI, there is potential for it to create and deliver course content directly. AI-generated content, interactive simulations, and virtual labs could become staples of education. While this may raise concerns about the role of teachers, it also opens doors to educators focusing more on mentorship, individualized support, and guiding students in critical thinking and problem-solving. Redesigning learning will require educators to develop a “loose-tight” mindset with areas of instruction. Meaning, what is the best use of the teachers time and talent while still providing every child with the opportunity to move at an individual pace?

Pedagogy: The Heart of Personalized Learning

While technology is a driving catalyst in the shift to personalized learning, the shift in pedagogy is the beating heart of personalized learning. The traditional teacher-centric model is making way for a learner-centric approach. Here’s why this shift is vital:

  1. Student Agency: Personalized learning empowers students to take control of their education. They set goals, make choices, and become active participants in their learning journey. This fosters a sense of responsibility and autonomy that is invaluable. Developing students who are self-aware with their learning supports independent learners and adults who are comfortable with genuine life-long learning.
  2. Flexible Pacing: In personalized, competency based learning, students progress at their own pace. They are no longer constrained by rigid timelines that force them to move on before they are ready. If a student can move faster, they should be given that freedom. Conversely, if a student needs additional time and support to demonstrate mastery, they should be given that opportunity as well. This flexibility allows students to delve deep into subjects they are passionate about and take the time they need to master challenging concepts.
  3. Tailored Support: Personalized, competency-based learning enables teachers to provide targeted support to students who need it. Rather than employing a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction, educators can focus their efforts where they will have the greatest impact.
  4. Real-World Relevance: By aligning education with students’ interests and goals, personalized, competency-based learning makes education more relevant. Students see the practical applications of what they’re learning, which increases motivation and engagement.

The Urgency of Redesigning Learning

So, why is there a sense of urgency in redesigning education? The answer lies in the rapidly changing world we live in. The traditional model of education was designed for a different era, one that no longer exists.

In today’s world, where information is at our fingertips and technological advancements are occurring at breakneck speed, our children need an education that equips them with the skills and mindset to thrive in a complex and ever-changing landscape. They need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and lifelong learners.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for flexible, adaptable, and resilient education systems. Personalized learning, with its emphasis on individualized support and flexible pacing, is well-suited to meet these challenges head-on.

The convergence of technology and a shift in pedagogy towards personalized, competency-based learning is not just an educational trend; it’s a revolution. It’s a call to action, an imperative to redesign education with a healthy sense of urgency. Every child deserves an education that recognizes their uniqueness and equips them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a rapidly evolving world. It’s time to embrace personalized learning for every child, every day.

Future of Learning Council

To support the work of educators across Michigan, a group of local school district superintendents began meeting in an effort to share strategies and ideas. With the support of Michigan Virtual, the Future of Learning Council (FLC) was officially launched in 2021. What began as a small group of innovative leaders has quickly grown to over 50 school districts, ISD’s and charter schools meeting on a monthly basis to share design and implementation ideas.