There are many definitions of personalized learning. We define personalize learning as: Placing learners at the center where multiple pathways are possible to develop essential skills, and competencies. Guiding individuals to become agents of their learning through goal setting and reflecting on the learning process. An active method where educators recognize the need for flexibility around pace, content, style, skill, background knowledge, location or some other learning dimension.
In order for learners to be placed at the center, a learner profile must be established. For years teachers have been compiling data and information on learners to guide instruction, but how much of that information drives the learning? If we want learners to be able to have voice and choice in their learning, they have to understand how it is they learn best, their strengths and weaknesses, and how to apply their skills and interests. Here in lies the importance of a learner profile.
Learner Profile Belongs to the Learner
A learner profile must belong to the learner and the learner must understand how to interact with it in order for it to be effective. We experimented with a few different types of learner profiles and found some things that didn’t work. It didn’t work to have pages and pages of documents for the learners to scroll through every time they reflected or set goals. It also didn’t work to use certain terms like, access, engage, express, because it confused the learners. It needed to be more specific without being too much information. Initially, it didn’t work just to ask getting to know you questions like personality types. While an inventory of learning styles is helpful, a more thorough learner profile which allows for ongoing goal setting and reflection that pertains to the current coursework is more useful.
After reflecting on things that didn’t work and visiting with Andrew Easton, a PL coach from Omaha, we came up with a three/four page learner profile. We will go on to explain the different pages, but the idea is that the learner can reference one page at a time, depending on the task at hand. Once again the learner profile belongs to the learner and becomes their “road map” or “play list” used to drive their learning. Page one is an interest page, page two is a learning preference page, and page three is a data collection page. A fourth page could be a learning inventory page dedicated to learning style and personality type, or this could be a section embedded in the interest page.
Learner Interest Page
The interest page would be referred to when learners have an opportunity to connect learning to a passion. A genius hour, a 20% or capstone project, time in a maker space to create something, a product for a mentorship or internship opportunity, or any choice in project that could be connected to a learner’s interest. Learners continuously visit their interest page when inspired or interested in new topics. Burning questions, a new aspiration or a sudden interest in something new could all be a part of the learner interest page. Learners will feel validated and engaged in the learning process when they are able to track and refer to their interests or passions, at school and on a regular basis. We allowed for learners to answer an essential question anyway they wanted in our course. At first learners were hesitant to get started, but once we encouraged them to refer to one of their interests or passions, they were off. (See blog Personalized Learning vs Differentiation)
Learner Preference Page(How I learn)
The learner preference page would be a tracking sheet for learners to reflect on how they prefer to learn. In a personalized learning model, at times learners have voice and choice in how they access, engage or express information. In our class we refer to these different choices as teacher seminar, direct instruction, and personal flex/independent (click on LEARNER PREFERENCE presentation link for clarification on this). Each class could have a different link on the preference page and at the end of a class learners could make a tally next to the choice they made about their learning preference for the day, and how it worked for them. At times the teacher can go over this page with a learner during a conference and discuss what a learner knows about how he/she learns.
How are learners expected to have voice and choice if they are not made aware of their learning process? Most teachers plan very effective lessons, but the learners are not thinking about how strategic the teacher is in helping them acquire information. For example, in many traditional classrooms, a teacher first provides direct instruction, then moves into group discussions or practice and finally a learner completes a task on their own. In a personalized learning model, the teacher not only points out the different ways learners are being presented information, but also stops to ask learners which format was most beneficial to them. At the end of a lesson or class, learners can take out their learner profile, go to their preference page and reflect on how they processed information and what was helpful.
We are aware that some learners will need more guidance with their decision making and learning preferences. There is always room to reflect and grow. Teachers can help learners monitor their choices by conferencing with them regularly. A learner who may have made a less effective choice in how to learn in one instance, could make a more strategic and fitting choice in the future. After tracking, a learner can write general reflections for when they need direct instruction, collaborative groups, or independent flex time. For example, a learner may note in Math they need more direct instruction, but in Language Arts class they prefer collaborative groups. Or, when the material is difficult or new information, a learner may need direct instruction, but if the information is review or something they are comfortable with they might choose independent flex so they can work at a faster pace. This portion of the profile can evolve to be more specific as well. For example, a learner may get more specific in the method of note taking they prefer. We have all learners experience and learn Cornell notes, if they can defend another style of note taking that works better for them we allow them to use another method. Overall, a learner is thinking about and reflecting on how they learn best.
Data Collection Page
The data collection page would be an overall picture of academic progress. Again, each course could have a link for a document specific to the course standards. In our English Class, learners can link to a unit overview. The link leads to a document where learners set goals for each unit (based on standards) and reflect on them upon completion of the unit. The data collection page specific to English Class also had learners reflecting on their reading and writing process, the strategies they used to analyze, future applications of skills, and growth as a learner. This page would be a great reference for advisory, homeroom teachers, or parents to discuss how a learner is doing in school. Again, each teacher could design a data collection page that best suits their course, yet all the information is connected and easily accessible to learners without there being too much information on one document, where one finds himself/herself scrolling forever and a day.
The Importance of Reflection
Our job as educators is to teach kids how to learn. When learners reflect each day not only on what they learn, but how they learn, they can begin to have more ownership in their learning process. Reflection is not something that happens naturally for all learners, we need to model, practice, and provide feedback for reflection. This model of a learner profile allows for ongoing reflection and learner ownership of their learning.