The Transformation of Personalized Learning From ‘Logistical Nightmare’ to Concrete Reality

By John Egan

Want to peer into the future of K–12 learning?

Take a look just north of San Diego, California at Vista High School, which recently received a $10 million grant from XQ: The Super School Project to offer all of its more than 2,600 students “a fully personalized, global education.” The grant will go toward expanding the Vista High School Personal Learning Academy, a pilot program designed to create a 21st century alternative to traditional instruction.

As executive director of AASA The School Superintendents Association Daniel A. Domenech observed, personalized learning in the United States is not “a distant hope lingering on the horizon,” but rather a concept being carried out right now in dozens of school districts across the country.

Schools like Vista High School and the expanding buzz around personalized education will continue to spark conversation at the 2017 National Conference on Education from March 2 to 4 in New Orleans. Dr. Devin Vodicka, superintendent of the Vista Unified School District, will participate in a Thought Leader session titled “Innovative Strategies to Close the Homework Gap.” He will be joining leaders in the personalized education dialogue at the National Conference on Education, which will feature other personalized education sessions on “Individualized Learning Plans,” “District Focus on the Whole Child,” “Use of Technology,” and “Teacher Professional Development.”

“With the rapid changes in the way our students learn and with many emerging opportunities for learning, the possibility of and the imperative for personalizing education today is greater than it’s ever been,” Domenech said. “Our children do not learn at the same speed and at the same rate. Personalized learning helps to address their needs at the right time.”

Domenech, along with colleagues Morton Sherman, associate director of AASA, and John Brown, executive director of curriculum design and services for Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, recently co-authored a book about personalized learning. The book, Personalizing 21st Century Education: A Framework for Student Success, “explores the meaning of and a possible future direction for education in the 21st century — an education that transcends the archaic factory model of teaching and learning to which most students in public schools are still exposed,” according to Wiley, the book’s publisher.

Sherman said: “We believe that personalized learning may offer us the chance to look at new design-based approaches to learning and teaching and, most importantly, focus sharply on student needs and abilities.”

To offer insights into personalized learning, AASA in October 2015 even hosted the first-ever Superintendents Summit on Personalized Learning. Sherman called the three-day gathering in Salt Lake City a first step by AASA to build a national coalition “of those who want to work together long term to learn about and take action with personalized learning.” This year’s summit was held in Oceanside, California.

“We all have wanted to fulfill that dream, but the reality of how we currently organize our schools makes personal learning a logistical nightmare,” Domenech said. “Recent advances in technology are providing encouraging signs that the dream might be achievable soon.” However, Domenech added, “Technology alone, without teachers properly trained in its use, will not result in expected achievement gains.”

Join the complex and rapidly evolving conversation, and help shape the movement of personalized learning at the 2017 National Conference on Education in New Orleans.