Posted by: darcymullin | July 26, 2011

Personalized Learning…my 2¢

Monday July 25th marked the inaugural #bced chat hosted by David Wees and Chris Wejr.  I am really excited about all the BC educators that are beginning to use twitter to create a province wide dialogue.  The first chat was focused on Personalized Learning.  I missed some of the chat (I was trying to sell my minivan…but that is another story), but I really enjoyed the conversation.

Based on what I have tried, read and discussed I am beginning to get a sense of what Personalized Learning is (and is not).

Personalized Learning is…

Based on Curriculum

Some people might disagree, but curriculum matters – we need to have some commonalities that we are pursuing.  Like it or not, education is a public institution and accountability to the public will always be there.  That said, as educators our role is to make the curriculum relevant to our students.  Also, having fewer Learning Outcomes (standards) would allow us to go deeper.  For me Personalized Learning involves depth.

Based on Sound Formative (AFL) Assessment

More than ever students and teachers will have to rely on sound assessments.  Personalized Learning involves educators giving up control in the classroom and turning over the learning to the students.  Students will struggle to learn if they do not have clear targets or learning goals.  If students do not know where they are going, they can and will get bogged down in the litany of information that bombards them every day.  Students must also know and understand the criteria for success and get (and dole out) descriptive feedback based on the criteria.  At all times, students must be aware of where they are in relation to the intended learning goal.

Is Part of a Differentiated Classroom

I would argue that any “learning” that is “personalized” must also be differentiated.  Students will receive information in different ways.  They will demonstrate their learning in different ways.   Some students excel in the written word, some are artistic, some can utilize technology, some students are stronger orally, some kinesthetic…we need to set the goals and let students demonstrate their knowledge in ways that suit them.

Our instruction will have to change…we will have to tailor our instruction to the needs of the class.  Is there room for stand and deliver?  You bet, there are times when the entire class needs the same message.  Small group instruction?  You bet!  1 to 1?  You bet!

Grounded in Collaboration and Communication

As teachers give up control in the classroom, students can and will go to each other for support and feedback (which is why Learning Intentions and criteria are so important).  Students must be able to articulate where they are in their learning and be able to advocate for their own learning.  Collaboration is not “forced groupwork”, rather seeking help and support when needed.  Communication is paramount to collaboration, we as educators need to model the art of listening and learning from our students.

Based on Learning

More than anything Personalized Learning should be about the process of learning.  It should be about how we acquire knowledge.  Students need the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them.  Learning is a process that never stops and we are remiss to think that students can only learn about Social Studies in our 50 minute blocks we allot.

Put Students in the Centre of the Learning

Personalized Learning involves giving up control.  In my (limited) experience with Personalized Learning, I have found that the more control I gave up, meaning the more expectation I had of the students to acquire their own knowledge, the more control I had of the class.  Putting kids in control, empowered them and empowered students tend to be engaged students.  When students are engaged in their learning, I had time to sit down and work with small groups, give 1 to 1 attention, or just float around the class asking probing questions – acting as facilitator.

As I write this, I am feeling empowered and excited.  Excited about getting back to the classroom in a couple of weeks and continuing my journey.  Excited because I realize that I have a lot more to say, but I don’t want to write forever.   I will write more in the coming weeks, specifically about what I think Personalized Learning “is not”.

I realize that my list of what Personalized Learning “is” is incomplete.  I would love to hear some of your thoughts.  Please feel free to add to my list.


  1. HI Darcy
    I really enjoyed your post – and I agree with all of your perspectives. One issue that always concerns me is the over-indulgence of Learning Outcomes in our Curriculum Documents. In the name of accountability, many of these documents are over-saturated – “a mile wide and an inch thick” – giving teachers the impression that that they can’t “go deeper” and are always racing against the clock. This problem is exacerbated in independent schools (not sure about public school counterparts), where current accountability measures, require that a teacher/school provide evidence, by way of planning, that each and every learning outcome is covered. As you can imagine, this creates a culture of “covering the curriculum” as opposed to “exploring curriculum” to ignite learning.

    I recently heard someone talk about curriculum documents as “menus”. I think this is a healthier mindset. I welcome changes to our curriculum documents that force our teachers and students to go “a mile deep and an inch wide”

  2. Hi Johnny, I agree – the number of outcomes we have is overwhelming and does not allow teachers to go deeper. I think curriculum is important, but overhauling the curriculum is equally important. The idea of curriculum as a menu or framework is one of the first steps in helping BC educators jump into the Personalized Learning Realm. Unlike you, I have given the teachers permission to skip some of the learning outcomes allowing them to go deeper. That said, our students don’t write Provincial Exams and we are not held to the same level of accountability that you are.

  3. I think that we should consider the “prescribed” learning outcomes to be more like menus and less like checklists of things for kids to learn.

    What would the consequence be if we did this right now? Would the ministry of education, given that they are as interested in promoting personalized learning as we are, support this switch?

  4. David, whether we personalize or not I believe most educators do this anyway. We tacitly acknowledge that we “cover” everything, knowing full well that we really haven’t. I support teachers in deciding what is important and going deeper and I am not afraid that the Ministry is going to come knocking down my door.

  5. […] what is the best method to integrate personal learning in the classroom.  I also read a great blog post by Darcy Mullin regarding that same topic.  After clarifying the term, my colleagues suggested […]

  6. You’ve said as much in varied ways here, but I’ll still throw it out this way: Personalized learning is responsive to the student. Far too often, we seek ways to get students to be more responsive to the system or to us, as educators. Personalized learning is about the system, or us, as educators, responding to them.

  7. You’ve said as much in varied ways here, but I’ll still throw it out this way: Personalized learning is responsive to the student. Far too often, we seek ways to get students to be more responsive to the system or to us, as educators. Personalized learning is about the system, or us, as educators, responding to them.

  8. […] On Monday night I managed to carve out an hour in my life to attend the second #bced Twitter conversation on personalised learning.  For a really good summary of the main points covered I highly recommend reading @darcymullin’s blog post  Personalised Learning … my 2 cents. […]

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