Personalized Learning Isn't Enough. How Do We Create Learners? - Digital Promise

Personalized Learning Isn’t Enough. How Do We Create Learners?

January 26, 2015 | By

We hear a lot about ‘personalized learning’ – the importance of reaching every student at their level, including their interests and passions, and giving them choices. This isn’t really a new concept. Teachers have been trying to do this forever, and the only difference is that we now have tools to do this more efficiently and effectively than we could before.

When we started working with the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools, I thought “personalizing learning” was our end goal. After all, now that each student has access, teachers have the ability to personalize in ways they couldn’t before.

The more we work with these schools, I find myself gravitating toward a bigger question: How do we create learners?

The thing is, “personalized learning” isn’t our end goal. Creating learners is. Personalized learning is just the approach we use to get there – and we can personalize, personalize, personalize… but at the end of the year, if we haven’t created learners, we haven’t actually achieved our goal.

I know learners. They exist in classrooms and they exist outside of classrooms. They are the ones who figure out how to fix their dryer by watching YouTube videos, or they figure out how do their taxes by reading blogs, or they pick up new hobbies and careers by finding mentors and friends.

They’re confident. They’re thoughtful. They’re proactive.

They’re also really, really good at three parts of the learning process.

  1. They know how to SELECT a challenge to solve.
  2. They know how to CONNECT to people and resources.
  3. They know how to REFLECT and share.

As I think about the professional learning happening through the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools project, I realize that all of our teachers are on a spectrum; some see themselves as “learners” while others still see themselves as pupils who let school (or in this case, professional development) happen to them.

Yes, I want to personalize how we support our teachers. But even more, I want make sure we stay focused on creating “learners” so our teachers feel confident tackling challenges on their own. After all, isn’t that we hope to do for the students in our classrooms as well?



Below, I’ve listed some strategies our Verizon Innovative Learning Schools coaches are using to help their teachers be confident in moving towards a “learner” mindset.

  1. Learners know how to SELECT a challenge to solve.



How do we help move someone along this continuum?

  • DO make sure the person has enough context to understand the big picture. Provide the person with sample challenges to pick from and show how they fit together towards that vision. DON’T just set the challenge for her/him.
  • DO provide reflection tools that help her/him identify their strengths and weaknesses for themselves. DON’T just tell the person what their needs are.
  • DO help her/him create goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). DON’T just assume the person knows how to write a quality goal.


  1. Learners know how to CONNECT to people and resources



How do we help move someone along this continuum?

  • DO give others the chance to be the expert or the mentor. DON’T just provide workshops where you are the sole facilitator.
  • DO focus on helping the person improve their information literacy skills. DON’T just create content repositories.
  • DO create learning networks for people who have similar goals so they can problem solve together. DON’T just create curriculum or lessons.


  1. Learners know how to REFLECT and share.



How do we help move someone along this continuum?

  • DO make sure the person feels comfortable trying, reflecting, and re-trying the strategies in their classroom. DON’T stop the interaction after the person connects to learning resources.
  • DO help her/him structure their thoughts; instead of “good” or “bad”, ask her/him to consider “victories”, “lessons learned”, and “needs and concerns”. DON’T just assume the person knows how to ask themselves good reflection questions.
  • DO provide her/him with a non-threatening platform and encourage the sharing of learning and reflections. DON’T just wait for the person to share their learning with others.
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