Personalized learning is in the spotlight around the globe, as vendors race to be known as THE personalized learning solution. But teaching to the needs of each student won’t happen through a magic product — it will require a synergy of tools and open resources that fit together for mass personalization, combined with teaching professionals who readily accept these tools because they work quickly, intuitively, and as an extension to the teacher’s daily routine. Most important, this synergistic effort will take hold only if it produces clear-cut results. The sea change that can drive education equality to every child on the planet will only happen when parents get excited because of positive changes they see in their own children, and when teachers have a quick and easy way to socially network effective strategies with their peers.
At Silverback Learning Solutions, we learned long ago that any solution meant to have a meaningful impact on students requires the voice of the educator at its core. We held focused sessions with groups of practitioners comprised of both users and non-users of our Mileposts™ instructional improvement system to help us distill the aspects of personalized learning environments into the simple continual improvement model of Figure 1 (with a tip of the cap to luminaries like Deming and Argyris). We all agreed that if teachers, students, and parents could rely on a simple delivery and display mechanism that mirrored our simplified process, it could provide a monumental shift in how those parties conceptualize and communicate the ongoing needs, actions, and triumphs of individual students.
Partnering to Succeed
The next step was to take stock in what we at Silverback could do and where we would need to partner to execute the demands of our learning loop. Our Mileposts system specializes in linking learners to growth targets via individualized learning plans where teachers can easily monitor student progress and quickly network modified strategies through interventions backed by a rich set of performance indicators from assessment and student information systems. The immediate opportunity we saw to complement our strengths was in the content area, helping to bring a wealth of relevant resources to the plans and interventions, to help supplement curriculum and instruction in the classroom. We partnered with Gooru*, a free search engine for learning developed by a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to honor the human right to education. Teachers and students can use Gooru to search for rich collections of multimedia resources, digital textbooks, videos, games, and quizzes created by educators in the Gooru community. We also saw a need to make the loop tighter by providing more tools for formative assessment in the classroom, so we partnered with LinkIt, who make it easy for teachers to create and share formative assessments linked to core standards, and administer those tests online or through plain paper bubble sheets. Of course we partnered only with open systems built on cloud-based platforms with industry standard components, so that integration would be easy and further customization based on evolving customer needs would be straightforward.
Maximizing Existing School Assets
With the emerging technologies from Silverback, Gooru, and LinkIt, we’ve begun to actualize true personalized learning environments where curriculum, instruction, and assessment become more applicable to the individual student, more intuitive for the classroom teacher, and more aligned to state and Common Core standards. But what about all of those curriculum, instruction, and assessment programs already in use in the thousands of local and regional networks of schools around the world? Does this new technology discount and discard those initiatives into which those schools have invested so much capital, labor, time, and professional development? No! In fact, when you broaden our simplified learning environment by one layer (Figure 2,) it shows the four major collection areas where we contend all of today’s existing classroom tools can fit and add value: “Learning Plans,” “Curriculum & Instruction,” “Performance Indicators,” and “Interventions.” These four broader concepts are key areas where schools have existing assets in place and will continue to invest and improve. With connectivity provided through a system like Mileposts that embraces open standards, local and regional networks of schools can logically connect and categorize all of their existing instructional and learning assets into these four key areas, essentially supporting the personalized learning machine with key additions that provide necessary content and structure to enable higher capabilities and higher resolution views for the overall system, while still taking advantage of the simplicity and usability of the simple learning loop. The same tools that provide personalized learning environments for the learner can become custom asset management environments for schools, enhancing the usability of these assets and the efficiency of educators within the system by making the inputs, outputs, and transitions of each asset and how it applies to the personalized learning environment easier to understand.
Through advancements in technology, policy, and practice, we now share a unique opportunity with our partners and customers to build on personalized learning that is universally simple yet intrinsically powerful and effective for all students. This is just an overview of our alignment and possible paths forward. The technology isn’t perfected, admittedly, but the commitment and passion to perfect it is. The system described here is effecting change right now, and continues to evolve daily and weekly. (We discuss more about the real-world examples of this system in practice in our GlobalEdCon session.) We just need to continue to gather visionary educators and organizations that want to help us continue to push the envelope and create something so profound that it brings personalized learning to every human on the planet.