Not So Typical Personalized Learning Predictions for 2019
Every 4-5 years, I try to pick up a new activity and focus on it until I get to a level of intermediate competency. It started with scuba diving in 2003, snowboarding in 2008, swimming in 2013, and this year was surfing. I took a 3-day boot camp with a private instructor where it turns out I had a different instructor each of the 3 days. While the instruction was 1:1 and technically couldn’t be more personalized for me, I was surprised by how much each instructor met or didn’t meet my needs. So I wanted to break it down for you.
First I had Chris. It was my first day trying to surf, and while I watched a bunch of YouTube videos beforehand, watching it and trying to do it is a different story. While Chris was super chatty and helpful in making me feel comfortable, after 60 minutes I began to realize that she was doing basically what she would do during a group lesson. Fairly routine and robotic basic tips, and while I was hanging ten on the wave, she was chatting it up with the half dozen other surf instructors. I figured out that this was a fun job for her and she jumped from one surf school to another. With Chris, while I got the basics down, I didn’t grow much after that because her comfort zone was teaching large groups with a standard course of basics, and she delivered the same experience in a 1:1 setting.
Day two, I was assigned Sasha. He was great. He actually engaged me Day 1 and watched what I was doing that day. Right away at the beginning of day two, he wanted to see me do a few practice popups (the act of jumping up from a lying position on the board) and then he quickly challenged me to build some new skills. I felt I was learning the most from him. He moved me along quickly if I developed fluency around a skill and had me practice more in areas that needed improvement. Sasha also explained how each of the simple skills was put together to execute on more complex skills or to be more efficient so that I can do other things without exerting too much energy.
Day three, Eddie was my instructor. It was eye-opening. He taught me how to look at swell recordings on bouys and weather patterns to determine if there would be good waves. It took me beyond the act of surfing and helped me better understand how complex it could be. While in the water, he was great at looking at my form and giving me technical tips on how to become more efficient. He reminded me of those teachers who have been doing it long enough where it becomes second nature. However, while I was being taught new things, I wasn’t being pushed as much as I was with Sasha. Eddie taught me about the breadth of what you need to know about surfing, like weather, swell, and wind. Sasha really helped me improve the depth of my skills so that I could start doing tricks and turns.
The point is, while I had 3 different opportunities to have very personalized learning experiences through 1:1 instruction, each had very different results and learning outcomes. I’ve come to realize through this experience that there is a necessary tension in learning between student and teacher.
When a student communicates particular areas of interest in a topic, a teacher can support a path of learning based on those areas and tie it back to the ultimate goal.
Teachers provide discipline for practicing the things a student doesn’t want to do because when done well, those things allow the student to do the more advanced things they’re excited about.
Teachers are able to dynamically adjust the instruction based upon the pace and depth of a student’s learning because they are expert enough to take a student on different learning journeys while making sure the student gets to the destination.
So instead of my typical predictions, I wanted to share the three areas where I’ll be focusing my attention in 2019. Instead of what might happen in education in 2019, I’ll share what I can influence and control. As I learn more about these topics, I plan on continuing to share my learnings with other educators around the world.
As I’ve quoted a few times from Tom Northrup, “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are now getting. If we want different results, we must change the way we do things.” I am determined to work with people who are willing to work really hard, but want to try different things to see if we can get better results in life, in work, and at our schools. We in education are working so hard in the hopes of getting extraordinary results, yet as a nation, our results have not matched the effort we put in. I’m excited to think about the problems we are trying to solve differently and welcome people to reach out to me who are interested in doing the same.
As I mentioned above, personalized learning has evolved for me. It’s beyond a teacher dynamically tailoring instruction to the needs of each student. In my opinion, in order to personalize, there is a tension between the student and teacher. As a student is trying to understand what they need, the teacher is constantly helping the student go deeper into the content, further along in the continuum of information, or exploration and discovery of new opportunities. From our work with school districts, that tension between student and teacher is healthy and promotes learning that is reciprocal. Learning conditions that have reciprocal benefits for the teacher and the student are ideal. It keeps both motivated and without it, the work of teaching and learning becomes routine and robotic. As we expand our partnership with schools around the world, we will continue to share how we are able to achieve this in school model design and instructional support systems. The more opportunities we have to partner with schools, the better we are able to refine how best to implement personalized learning to maximize the potential of each student and teacher.
I’m in the pursuit of better understanding what makes an organization more of a learning organization than another. For the last decade, since Michael Horn’s (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and the adoption of design thinking in education, we have been talking about being innovative. Being innovative has become a state of what an organization becomes, e.g. we are innovative. I think the path or process to getting there is learning. Many of the fastest growing organizations in the world are trying to figure out how to constantly learn from the mistakes they make. We all make mistakes when we are learning – the answer goes back to, "How do we get different results after we make mistakes?" I’m now doing research with experiments we are doing internally, content we are developing with our school partners, and insights I’m translating from other industries into education.
As Michael Fullan (2004) writes in his book Leading in a Culture of Change, “learning in the setting where you work, or learning in context, is the learning with the greatest payoff because it is more specific and because it is social”. I write in The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools, that learning organizations have 4 traits: new ideas are brought forth and work is spawned; people are having difficult discussions because creativity and learning is an uncomfortable state of being; failure is being shared openly so others can do things differently; and meetings are an opportunity to learn together. If our schools, central offices, and all the supporting organizations in education become better learning organizations, all of our dreams and goals will come true. For 2019, I ask that you join me in figuring out what makes a learning organization.
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About Anthony Kim
Anthony is the author of "Personalized Learning Playbook, Why the Time is Now", and his new book, "The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools". He has contributed to many other publications on new school models including Lessons Learned from Blended Programs: Experiences and Recommendations from the Field. Anthony is a nationally recognized speaker on personalized learning and his work has been referenced by the Christensen Institute, iNACOL, EdSurge, CompetencyWorks, and numerous other research reports. His work includes partnering with districts across the country who are implementing personalized and blended learning through Education Elements. Beyond implementing personalized learning models, Anthony focuses his research on organizational design and culture of innovation at school districts. Though this research, he is currently working on a new book, called Responsive Ed, which bring self-organization strategies to districts so that they can be more responsive to the changing needs of the community. Anthony is a graduate of Cornell University and lives in San Francisco.