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Personalization: Moving from “education” to “learning”

This year's conference theme: Leadership – personalized, accountable and visionary was made real through many opportunities for me to engage with colleagues around the idea of personalized learning. For me the conversation started early in the week at AASA's National Superintendent Certification Program, hearing from Dan Domenech, AASA Executive Director, and Mort Sherman, Associate Executive Director, on their latest book, Personalizing 21st Century Education: A Framework for Student SuccessDuring the conference there were many sessions  spread throughout the three days dedicated to personalized learning. I appreciate that AASA is so focused on learning and change!

Reflecting upon all my conversations, I realize that educators understand and implement personalized learning in different ways. While I think this variation exists primarily as a result of the different context in which we work, I do see two distinct paradigms of thinking about personalized learning. One paradigm is through the systems lens: teachers “do” personalized learning to the learner. The second paradigm is through the lens of the learner: only the learner can actually personalize learning; leaders and educators create the conditions for learners to personalize the learning. Whichever frame fits your context, I think we must come to a common understanding of terms like personalization, differentiation and individualization so that we are not talking past one another during our conversations. A valuable resource that I have found to clarify terminology is the Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization Chart (v3) developed by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey.

The next step to elevating the conversation will be to ensure that we have this common understanding of terminology. A common understanding will help us reframe the conversation around learning instead of around education; around putting the learner first instead of the system. Thanks #NCE17 and the many educators pushing my own thinking!

Randy Ziegenfuss is superintendent in the Salisbury Township School District, Allentown, PA. Connect with Randy on Twitter, at, and on the TLTalkRadio podcast!

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