Friday, 25 January 2013

Readiness for Personalized Learning

It is very easy to rationalize a personalized approach to learning. Given the choice between an educational program that is tailored to individual needs and a program that is the same for everybody, the choice seems obvious. The difficulty with the former lies in implementation. Personalized learning gives students more control and ownership over their learning but control can be very daunting for some students. To successfully transition into a personalized program it is essential that students possess the proper skills. It is the teacher’s role to help students develop these skills.

While there are many considerations when implementing a personalized program, there are two major elements needed for student success:

  • The first is a technological element. In order to facilitate a flexible learning environment, technology is generally utilized, which requires students to have a certain skill set. 
  • The other essential element is a collection of personal skills that learners need to possess. For example, in order to thrive in a personalized learning environment, students need to be organized, self-motivated, good communicators and able to persevere. Fortunately, all of these skills can be developed with time and practice.

One course that has been redeveloped at Greenwood with the goal of better preparing students for personalized learning is the Information and Communication Technology in Business Course, more commonly known as BTT. A large component of this course focuses on the development of important IT skills. Students are exposed to a variety of software and become skilled with word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentation software, developing web pages and using search engines. With the strong IT skills developed in this course, any technological barriers preventing students from being successful in a personalized program are removed.

Developing the personal skills to be successful in a student-centred program is a considerably more challenging task. In a traditional classroom where teachers control the pace and content, it is very easy for students to become passive learners. Passive learners are accustomed to being told what, how and when they need to learn.

BTT, on the other hand, gives students complete control over their learning in an environment that is flexible and accommodating, and allows students to develop the necessary skills for a personalized program over time. Although BTT is a grade 9 course, at Greenwood, the course is generally started in grade 7 and completed by students over 2 years. By extending the program over 2 years, students have a lot of time to develop the required skills. This course is also available to new grade 9 students so that they can reach the same level as returning students, but in this case it is completed in 1 year.

BTT is run as an independent course, with only extra help scheduled, and is integrated with other subjects. Integrating with other subjects allows students to complete assignments for BTT and other courses simultaneously. For example, one unit in BTT requires students to use software to create a presentation. Since the assessment for BTT is primarily skills-based, students can easily create a presentation with content for another class, ensure that the appropriate skills are demonstrated, and then submit the same assignment for BTT.

The format of this course requires students to look ahead and determine the most appropriate assignments to complete, to organize their time, to coordinate meetings for extra help and to collaborate with each other. The flexibility of the course and the 2-year completion time allows students to improve their work and hone their skills without worrying about rigid deadlines.

While it is very challenging for many grade 7, 8, and 9 students to take ownership of their learning, this course aims to promote and help develop the skills needed for a personalized learning program in a safe and supportive environment.

Kyle Acres
Learning Technology Adviser

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