Personalized Learning Environments

Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs) are one of those educational revolutionary ideas that are more complex than they may seem at first. Of course learning should be personalized to deal with the myriad of learners and their interests and strengths. Exactly what constitutes such an environment, though? The American Institute for Research (AIR) has produced a document outlining the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top-District grant program. This program, launched in 2012, defined four areas for grantee districts to submit plans for in their efforts to bolster educational reform. These four areas are as follows:

  1. Creating and implementing blended learning environments
  2. Developing and using individualized college and career readiness learning programs
  3. Implementing competency-based models to support and accelerate students’ progress through their learning plans
  4. Engaging and empowering key stakeholder groups, including teachers, parents, and the broader community in the process of ensuring student success

Each of these is ambitious and poses its own set of unique challenges, but each is sorely needed in education. The document outlines some finer points in each area in addition to providing examples of districts from around the country who have submitted plans for policies and practices that will achieve success with each.

Where is your district in progressing in each areas? What are the plans for the future? Much of what is discussed in AIR’s document is the plan of action for each and the intended outcomes. Overall, it is clear that success with these concepts is not found in the current, traditional system of education. For the plans to work, transformation must occur. For instance, to implement blended learning effectively, student learning cannot be relegated to sitting students down in front of a computer or piece of technology to do self-paced learning. That is not enough. They can absorb the facts, learn at their own pace, and even work cooperatively in a digital environment, but it will mean nothing unless the face-to-face time complements it well. Collaborative work, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, authentic problem-solving, and activities/work that piques student interest are all key factors (among others) in leveraging blended learning to maximize learning in the physical space. Just because a technology changes the way a task is done does not mean it changes our learning.

I’m saying that careful planning must be followed up with development, reflection, and redesign. We need to consider how all of these areas must go together and reflect the work of one another in order to realize the goals of each. Perhaps even more importantly, once the grantees in this program have begun enacting their plans, the results and future development plans need to be shared. We need to learn from one another. Otherwise, we will have silos of success.


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