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Four Landmarks on your District’s Personalized Learning Journey

By: Nikki Mitchell on April 11th, 2018

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Four Landmarks on your District’s Personalized Learning Journey

Personalized Learning

Imagine you’re exploring a new place. It’s exciting, but unfamiliar and so remote that you’ve lost cell service. How do you get where you’re going? Chances are, you’ll seek out an expert - someone who knows the lay of the land and can give you directions. Once you’ve found the corner gas station and asked for assistance, what will your expert guide tell you?

You: “Hey, how do I get into town?”

Local: “Oh - it’s so easy. Just head up the road until you see the old water tower, then hang a left. If you reach the cow pond you’ve gone too far. Watch out for the fork in the road by the old fire station: stay right, the left is a dead end. Mind the speed limit, that stretch is a notorious speed trap. You’ll see the courthouse at the end of the lane. Make straight for it and then you’re there!”

You: “Left at the water tower, right at the fork, mind my speed, and straight toward the courthouse… got it! Thanks so much for your help!”

It’s easy to get lost while transitioning your district from traditional instruction to personalized learning. That’s why we at Education Elements prefer to think of the process as a journey - one that can be broken down into individual steps, with recognizable landmarks along the way. That’s a journey that we’ve traveled again and again, with hundreds of districts from across the country.

For us, part of partnering with districts to personalize learning is taking on the role of the local gas station attendant: we call out landmarks to look for and slow downs to plan for. Onpoint is one tool that helps us do that. Onpoint is a way for district leaders to compare their district’s progress to national benchmarks; it’s a single number score that benchmarks district-level implementation of personalized learning, based on a growing dataset of districts and more than 7,000 teacher survey responses.

Onpoint shows where districts tend to make the most headway early on, which breakthroughs usually come later, and which aspects of the shift to personalized learning typically happen gradually.

Now, let me step behind the counter at the personalized learning gas station and tell you about four landmarks to watch out for as you navigate your personalized learning journey.


Landmark 1 : Shared Understanding

Four Landmarks on Your District's PL Journey Landmark 1

Seventy percent of the growth in the Onpoint benchmark for Strategy Communication happens between the Planning stage and Year 1 of personalized learning.

This makes sense because your district community needs a shared understanding of your vision and implementation plan before launch. Defining and communicating the “why” and the “how” will be an ongoing process, but the bulk of this work happens upfront, in the Planning stage, and serves as your foundation for personalized learning for years to come.

Looking for help with navigating to this landmark? Learn how to create a personalized learning vision, and try these four suggestions to introduce personalized learning into your organization.

Landmark 2: Iterating on Operations

Four Landmarks on Your District's PL Journey Landmark 2

This landmark isn’t so much a milestone you pass on your journey, as a part of the landscape that doesn’t go away. Operations, which here refers to the devices & digital tools and IT support in place to support personalized learning, is an area where we see districts grow steadily over time.

This may seem counterintuitive to districts in the planning stage, since districts often think that they just need to get the right tech into classrooms at the outset, and personalization will follow from there. Instead, you will find that as teachers become more effective at tailoring instruction for their students, your district will get better at providing and maintaining tools that best serve teachers’ instructional efforts. It’s a gradual process, and you can expect to iterate and improve for years to come.

If you’re looking for more guidance, you can follow these 9 steps to buying the right digital content for your district or dispel a common misconception on this episode of mythbusters where we learn that personalized does not mean digital.

Landmark 3: Student Agency Driving Growth in Instructional Design

Four Landmarks on Your District's PL Journey Landmark 3

At first glance, this landmark might not look too interesting. Growth is highest at the outset, but progress continues gradually over time. What’s so interesting about that?

The Onpoint category for design is made up of two aspects of instructional design: teacher role and student role and they don’t grow in lock step with each other. Early on in your personalized learning implementation, growth in this category is driven by changes to the teacher’s role in the classroom as teachers target instruction to address specific student needs and learning goals more often and more effectively. Later on, growth is driven by changes to student roles as teachers give students more opportunities to reflect on their learning and shape their learning journey.  

As you go into your second year of personalized learning and beyond, jumpstart instruction innovation by focusing on student agency.

For more ideas on instructional design, learn how to pick the right instructional model for your classroom or read about why student agency is what counts.

Landmark 4: Stalling Culture of Innovation

Four Landmarks on Your District's PL Journey Landmark 4

Finally, here’s the landmark we hope we can help you avoid. The Onpoint category for Culture of Innovation captures buy-in for personalized learning, innovation and risk taking, and the positivity and supportiveness of the school and district working environments. As you can see, progress flatlines after year 2 - it even goes down a tiny bit! Why is that?

The initial push to personalize learning is an exciting time of innovation and experimentation. After a few years have gone by, it’s easy to settle into a new normal. Instruction might not look the same as it used to, but it can still look the same from day to day. If you find that educators are trying new things less often or that they feel unmotivated and don’t see the connection between their work in the classroom and your district’s shared purpose for personalized learning, it’s time to revisit your culture of innovation.

Check out these ten tips for creating a culture of innovation, and follow this recipe for change: 5 ingredients to create a culture of innovation, so that your organization’s innovation isn’t stalling.

Attending the Personalized Learning Summit in May? Be sure to register to attend Nikki's Breakout session "Onpoint: Benchmarking Your District’s Personalized Learning Implementation".

 Learn More About Onpoint


Check out these related blog posts for more learning!

Tracking the Big Picture: Onpoint for Personalized Learning

6 Risks to Avoid When Implementing Personalized Learning: Part I

6 Risks to Avoid When Implementing Personalized Learning: Part II

About Nikki Mitchell

As Impact Manager at Education Elements, Nikki has worked with districts across the country to use data to guide their implementation of personalized learning. She leads Education Elements' survey work and is the architect behind the Education Elements Onpoint score.

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