March 1, 2015
Online Journal - Personalized Learning
Lisa Clarke, Curriculum Coordinator & West Coast Adventist Christian Sch., British Columbia Conf., Abbotsford, BC

The gym floor is full of energy. Sitting in the parents’ room, I watch each athlete take their place on the floor to begin their final practice before the competition. Each routine has different music and movements that demonstrate their best skills. Some gymnasts have intricate dance and footwork series while others pack their routines full of gymnastic flips and tricks. Given the vast degree of differences, how can coaches and judges possibly implement and evaluate such personalized programs?
As teachers, we struggle with personalized learning. Many provincial governments have embraced the “new” student-centred learning initiative that promotes active and inquiry based learning. Major curricular changes involve the curriculum being less focused on specific objectives and more focused on competencies. Teachers are asked to teach and assess creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills in addition to simply knowledge.
Many teachers are apprehensive about personalized learning; so it is important to understand what personalized learning is and what it is not. Personalized learning is not simply differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is teacher led and focuses on the needs of set groups of learners. Once the teacher is aware of the various learning needs of the group, he or she adapts the instruction to meet the needs of those learners. It is important to remember that differentiated instruction follows the same curriculum while making modifications and accommodations to facilitate learner success.
Personalized learning is also not individualized instruction. Teachers are not expected to be able to plan lessons for each individual learner in their classroom. In addition, they are not expected to customize lessons and expectations for each learner. Unlike personalized learning, individualized instruction directly relies on the teachers and support personnel to actively deliver the instruction while the learners passively learn.
When I think of personalized learning, I think of my daughter’s gymnastics academy. At the beginning of the training year, my daughter knew she would be competing against other gymnasts. Her coaches explained the expectations for each routine. She was told that she needed to have two tumbling lines and one leap line with various other balance and dance skills to connect the three major requirements. The coaches rotated through the students to be able to work with each gymnast. They worked with her to pick her music, choose the skills she wanted to include, and the order for the routine. During her practice, the coaches provided her with opportunities for reflection, guidance and feedback. This feedback and self-reflection resulted in a personalized routine that motivated her to work towards including harder skills while allowing her to display her areas of strength.
By starting with the needs of the learner, personalized learning focuses on building capacity in the individual learner to take ownership over what he or she would like to learn. Using the Universal Design for Learning framework, teachers coach learners in the what, how and why of learning. Learners engage the affective domain as they connect researching, organization and expression of learning. By connecting with the learners’ interests, teachers are able to help the learners develop a plan for what they want to learn. Learners then map the learning plan, having a voice in what is accomplished and how they will demonstrate their learning. The learner plans what objectives he or she will meet as well as what tools or learning resources he or she may need. Through conferencing with the teacher, learners are coached, guided and supported through the learning and assessment process. Assessment as learning supports the learner through self-reflection and conferencing with teachers and peers. This assessment as learning is key to help learners become adept at pursuing their learning outside of the educational system.
We, as teachers, recognize the importance of developing life-long learners in this new information age. The North American Division is taking steps to adopt personalized learning innovations and the Universal Design for Learning Framework. Keep you eyes and ears open for updates on the Adventist Learning Community and the NAD Education department’s REACH initiatives can support schools with this new framework.

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