Learning in the 21st century is becoming increasingly technologically advanced, but quite a few classrooms could still be mistaken for those found in the era of the Industrial Revolution.
Much of our educational system's roots were developed in that exciting time two centuries ago. Before then, school was taught mainly in one-room schoolhouses with non-professional teachers. It was decided that students should be treated as factory output, with the classroom serving as the factory. Columnar rows ruled the day.
But the factory mindset in education assumes all students are equal, learn in the same ways, and at the same pace. We all know that is not true. Thankfully, our tools and creativity allow us to personalize learning beyond the factory approach. But, how do you transfer from "same ways, same place" to a more personalized learning experiencewithin the classroom?
Allow for modular classroom furniture
A simple way to break from the factory mindset, is to allow students to change and choose the "place". Any compliment of furniture, including 20 to 30 identical desks, can be converted for personalized learning. The desks simply need to be mobile.
A key component of personalization is the ability for students to choose their ideal learning method. Their desk must be able to move to facilitate that choice, whether it is to join a collaborative group, participate in whole-group instruction, or to find a quiet corner for online learning. These diverse learning activities become possible via varied seating options.
Allow for modular class and course schedules
For secondary schools, personalized learning requires more options in how instruction is delivered. Tracks of classes are another holdover from the Industrial Revolution; they are the most efficient way to move hundreds of students through the “factory”.
Today’s students need to be able to move at their own pace, including through entire courses that don’t fit the traditional semester model. The only thing stopping a college student from moving ahead of their peers is prerequisite classes. Secondary schools should adopt a similar mindset, particularly if they have adopted a blended learning approach.
Allow for modular learning devices (even the the student's own device)
Just as semester and annual schedules found in higher education settings need to be more flexible, daily schedules should be as well. Today’s students can access information from anywhere at any time. Instead of trying to hold the use of technology back, we should embrace it in an effort to make learning more accessible and more personalized. As long as students are meeting the agreed-upon standards of the state and district (i.e. CCSS, TEKS, etc.), does it really matter if the student is working with a teacher in a classroom, in a computer lab with a supplemental instructor, or under a tree with their device?
Technology, particularly in a mobile setting, can do a lot of work toward personalization, particularly in pacing and diagnosing a curriculum. The only thing holding students back from accomplishing what they are capable of is a rigid, almost-dogmatic adherence to a centuries-old educational system that no longer meets our needs.
Share your experiences with variable learning environments
Have you experienced progress in student engagement and a more-personalized setting following changes and updates to the learning environment? What are some of your limits or blockers when it comes to your ability to adapt learning environments? Visit our Facebook page to join the conversation or Tweet us at @Wowzers!