Postsecondary Trending Now: Personalized Learning in K-12

At NGLC, we see many places where higher ed and K-12 can learn from each other. Especially in tech-enabled innovations designed to dramatically improve outcomes for students. When you get into the details, higher ed and K-12 are worlds apart, but the truth is that college readiness and college completion are two sides of the same educational coin.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are parallel challenges and innovations being developed in K-12 around competency-based education, learning management systems and platforms, digital content, and learning analytics. And yes, personalized learning too.

Scores of colleges and universities are looking to personalized learning strategies for improving student success:

  • Competency-based education models offer college students an opportunity to build upon what they already know and can do. These models give students time to spend on the competencies that are new or challenging for them. An emphasis on mastery helps students to make progress toward their own goals: degree completion, marketable skills, civic engagement, and lifelong learning.
    Example: Northern Arizona University Personalized Learning Division
  • Faculty use adaptive learning software in their courses to build on students’ strengths and target gaps in their learning. Faculty members then adjust their classroom lectures based on students’ progress. This approach seems to have particular efficacy in developmental courses.  
    Example: CSU Northridge’s Hybrid Lab Model

In K-12, there’s a growing network of schools that are looking to personalized learning strategies to improve student success. They are breaking the mold of traditional schools and reimagining what learning could look like when each student has a personalized experience. A report released last month by Getting Smart, in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges—Lighting the Path to Personalized Learning—tells the stories of 11 schools that are doing just that.

In narrative form, Lighting the Path reveals how the schools—in low-income urban and rural communities—are raising expectations for college readiness and providing personalized learning for all students, in models that are sustainable and optimized for scale.

Raising Expectations for College Readiness

The schools are creating new academic models that reflect a more complex perspective of what it takes to be successful in college. Content knowledge is an important foundation, but these schools also teach higher-order thinking abilities—applying knowledge to solve problems, synthesizing multiple perspectives into a coherent evidence-based argument, and transferring learning from one context to another. The schools are also explicitly teaching, and establishing learning environments that increasingly require college-ready skills like persistence and resilience, collaboration and communication, entrepreneurship and self-direction.

Personalized Learning for All Students

The schools featured in Lighting the Path are preparing their students more comprehensively for college through four primary strategies:

  • Learner profiles, constantly updated, that both students and teachers can view
  • Personal learning paths that guide students to the same high-level outcomes based on individual goals and strengths
  • Competency-based progression where students advance through a curriculum by demonstrating mastery
  • Flexible learning environments that adapt space, roles, and instruction to the needs of students and teachers

The schools are using technology to support these strategies through motivation, customization, and equalization of options. “It’s still harder than it should be to create an effective sequence of learning experiences in K-12, postsecondary or organizational training,” claim the report’s authors. But these schools are putting students in the center and figuring out how to create a student-centered education.

The Trickle-Up Effect into Higher Ed

Higher ed professionals may not be interested in how these schools are situating themselves to create K-12 system-wide change. But as the movement grows, higher ed will need to respond to increasing demand from a better-prepared student body who will not be satisfied with an education marked by lectures, high tuition costs, and inflexible structures. Instead, next gen students will demand an improved learning experience from college that truly prepares them for a career and a life of their choosing.

The schools in Lighting the Path are personalizing education for students on the same fixed public dollars that other schools have. They are differentiating teachers’ roles with more experienced and less experienced teachers working in teams, creating new roles of coaches and mentors, and even redefining teachers as rigor, relevance, or relationship managers.

Teachers have time to focus on intensive support for struggling students and higher-order applications through project-based and inquiry-based learning because students are learning basic content online. Teachers work with small groups of students, and their instruction is grounded in the data provided by online content and assessments.

Jump into the World of K-12 Personalized Learning

Lighting the Path is a collection of heartfelt and informative stories of each school’s launch. It’s easy to read just one story at a time, when you have five minutes here or there. When you do, you will gain new insight into the efforts of the innovative educators who are preparing their students for college. And you will have a new lens for considering how higher education itself can personalize learning and help even more students succeed.

Add new comment