Not Your Parents’ Education

Certainly when I was in high school, the idea of personalized learning or a personalized curriculum seemed laughable. My job position and my school definitely hadn’t been invented or even thought of yet! However, the origins of education learning used to be highly personal through educational concepts such as oral histories and apprenticeships. In fact, it was only with the advent of industrialized education that the de-personalization of education actually commenced. Now the pendulum is swinging back. In my primary role, I found a combination of face-to-face experiential learning along with the tools and applications of technology have the potential to create an ideal personalized learning environment for the 21st century citizen. I was excited to research the application of personalized learning to blended environments such as mine. I discovered two articles of note that delve into the broader research of personalized learning environments.

The first article discussed the potential of blended learning using a personalized curricular model with a case study of the experience of a charter school called the Alliance Tennenbaum Family Technology High School. The author, Susan Headden, shares that “active-learning — owned learning lets students determine where and when learning will occur” (Headden, 2013, p. 14). Through Headden’s review of other studies she determines that for technology to make a difference and truly personalize learning it must “come with humans attached” (Headden, 2013, p. 17). Success in a personalized learning format depends on the quality of curriculum and technology being used to implement this curriculum. Headden points out this could be why recent studies of blended learning have inconclusive results (Headden, 2013, p. 15). With this case, she found their personalized learning model was successful because it used “technology in a way that was systematic and intentional, and because it [worked] toward a mastery of learning” (Headden, 2013, p. 19). If personalized learning is filtered through technology then technology can also collect useful data to help this student make decisions to best fulfill their education.

The second article describes a system for personalized learning experiences called iClass. In reviewing this system the authors conclude that for personalized learning to work effectively both teacher and learner preferences have to be taken into account. When a course focusing on a personalized learning model is produced it should fit “both the teacher’s preferred mode of learning and the learner’s preferred mode of learning” (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 115). They also argue optimal personalized learning experiences have to allow for “dynamic adaption” and give the example of a personalized curriculum changing based on real-time assessment results (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 125). They conclude using technology to “personalize the pedagogical strategy” allows educators to better integrate e-learning & e-learning tools with traditional classroom methodology (O’Keeffe, 2006, p. 125). Personalized learning provides alternatives to all students to better suit their needs as well as the needs of a changing economy and workforce. This study draws the important conclusion that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is not effective for the student nor the teacher.

Both articles conclude using personalized learning systems are only effective if they work effectively for both teacher and student. As Richard Culatta in his Ted Talk stated, It is not enough to simply “digitize the status quo”. As he stated, personalizing using technology has to do something entirely different than just using a traditional classroom’s traditional methodologies and setup. All three sources discuss how the teacher’s role is an integral part of personalizing a student’s learning even if students drive the learning themselves.
Maker Education, in many ways, can be seen as a branch of personalized learning. Maker Education expands the experiential learning that should comprise a part of personalized learning to a network beyond just teacher-student, but rather teacher-student-audience. Maker works are intended to be collaborated and remixed by others, yet the articles I read did not explore this extended relationship although Culatta’s talk certainly indicated it could be there. If students are given the chance to use Maker technologies and methodology to demonstrate mastery of learning and teachers are given the freedom to personalize their preferences for delivering the instruction around these tools, the greater audience for the Maker movement as well as those unfamiliar with it will all benefit. For my program, it’s a direction that is not that far off.


Headden, S. (2013). “The promise of personalized learning.” Education Next, 13(4), 14-20.  Hoover Institution. Stanford, CA.

O’Keeffe, I., Brady, A., Conlan, O., Wade, V. (2006) “Just-in-time generation of pedagogically sound, context sensitive personalized learning experiences.” International Journal on E-Learning, 5(1), 113-127


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