As the personalized learning movement continues to grow, we are hearing with increasing frequency the question, “What should I look for when visiting a personalized learning environment?” This is an excellent question. Knowing what to look for can make the difference between seeing what seems to be a positive engaging learning environment and understanding the factors present that contribute to making the learning environment exceptional.

When visiting classrooms many people focus on the behaviors of the teacher to judge whether the class is being conducted in a quality manner. In fact, many of the most popular teaching frameworks employ this frame. Certainly, teacher behavior is important, but what really matters is the learning conditions students experience. In short, what really matters is learning.

The good news is that there are a number of specific conditions and factors visitors are likely to see and hear in a learning environment that truly is personalized. While not every factor or condition may be present in every environment, the more factors in play, the more personalized the learning environment is likely to be. Today, we will focus on six “look fors” when visiting a personalized learning site. Next week we will explore six more.

  • Purposeful learning. When visitors speak with students in a personalized learning environment they are likely to hear students describe not just what they are learning, but how it addresses key competencies or standards, how the learning serves a purpose and how they can use it beyond the classroom.
  • Learner efficacy. Personalized learning environments are designed to help learners make the connection that good choices, effective strategies, persistence, and good use of resources determine their learning success.
  • Ownership for learning. Students in a personalized learning environment typically see their learning as something that has value to them. They also see the work they do as for themselves rather than to comply with the demands of adults.
  • Flexible pace. Personalized learning environments break the “iron clad” connection between time and learning. Students are able to learn at the pace that works best for them. The focus is on quality learning, not the calendar.
  • Learner voice infused. The perspectives, opinions and preferences of students are invited, respected and considered in a personalized learning environment. While student preferences may not always prevail, they are seriously considered and implemented where practical.
  • Learner choice presented. Whenever practical, learners are given options regarding the ways in which they will engage in learning. It may be the approach to completing a task, how learning will be displayed or with whom learners will work, but choices are a part of the environment. The focus remains on clear, vigorous standards, but the paths learners will take to meeting these standards include learners as co-designers.

2 thoughts on “What to Look for in a Personalized Learning Environment

  1. drcjw says:

    What are your thoughts on the balance between flexible pace and pacing targets to encourage progress?

    1. Great question! Flexible pace is important to assure that learners experience a level of challenge that demands focus while success remains within reach. Establishing pacing targets also can support learning if they are calibrated to the individual learner. Unfortunately, pacing targets established at a group level almost by definition will work for some learners and not for others.

      James Rickabaugh Director The Institute @ CESA #1

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