Thursday, 12 April 2012

Personalized Learning and Preparation for the Future

I often find myself questioning whether I adequately prepare my students for postsecondary education, for employment or for life in general. While my curriculum is governed by the Ministry of Education, how the material is delivered and which skills receive a focus are up to me.

There are plenty of articles discussing disconnect between schools and the workplace or how secondary schools are not adequately preparing students for college and university. The Job Preparedness Indicator - a national study conducted in the United States - found that for entry-level jobs, employers were looking for candidates that were self-motivated, take initiative and have good time-management skills. The same study found that for mid-level jobs the emphasis was on problem-solving and communication.

In another article listing the top skills desired by employers, communication, interpersonal skills and teamwork were cited as being important.

The personalized approach to education (where students have more control and ownership over their learning) is ideal for developing self-motivation, initiative, time-management and problem-solving - but what about communication and other soft skills?

One of the strengths of a personalized program is that students can progress at their own pace and they can learn when they want and where they want. However, this strength also has its disadvantages as students could potentially lead a very independent existence with minimal interaction with other students.

As such, it is important when developing a personalized program to not only build structures that promote independence but also those that create opportunities to develop interdependence. When compared to a traditional teaching approach, personalized learning appears better able to support both of these structures.

Traditional instruction puts the teacher at the centre of the lesson, and makes them the person most likely to build communication and interpersonal skills. Personalized learning and the use of blended learning structures can eliminate the teacher-driven lecture, freeing class time for activities designed to build soft skills. The flexibility with class time offered by this approach creates more opportunities for group work, for discussion and debate, for one-on-one instruction and the development of skills needed for the future.

Additionally, the flexibility offered by a personalized approach can allow students to focus on the skills they feel are most important to them or the skills they need to practice the most.

A personalized program, as with any course, requires the teacher to constantly evaluate the student experience and the skills being fostered and then modify the program as needed. An additional consideration with a personalized approach is how to cultivate independence while at the same time encouraging interdependence as both are needed to build essential skills for the future.

Kyle Acres
Science Teacher

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