During the final stages of my masters program we were asked to complete a book study alongside working to complete our capstone project. At the time, I was annoyed by what seemed to be a sidebar task keeping me from focusing on the masterpiece that I would surely create for my capstone. That’s right, masterpiece. Like any good student, I began reading and reflecting weekly as required by the program. The book was an easy read, interesting enough, and the first week went by even though I was still mildly annoyed. The following weeks of reading were very surprising. A few weeks in, my priorities began to change and I became much more engaged in the book study, and much less worried about my masterpiece.
The book is titled, Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning. MCL is the abbreviation the authors, Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey, used to describe this innovative redesign of our educational system. The justification for redesign is that our educational system design has not changed much in it’s 200 year existence, however, our world has. I’m not saying that we are not doing new and even innovative things in our classrooms, but let’s think about the overall structure of the school system. Students are organized by age into grade levels that advance at the same rates, learning the same concepts, over the same amount of time.
Think about businesses that have failed to adapt to the needs and expectations of customers…they soon go out of business. Now consider organizations like Amazon that have adapted to our current culture filled with digital natives. They not only make shopping easier, but they tailor the shopping experience to individual customers and respond to their needs and interests. What if we were able to do that with our learners, customizing the learning experience of each individual learner? Allow them to learn at their own pace and take ownership of their education and direction. Each student could have their own learning path, created by them with support of parents and learning coaches, and unique from any other student. Opportunities to accelerate could be built in while additional support and structure could be provided to those who need it.
For more outline and specifics about how this looks, including an example of what this looks like from the student perspective, you will need to read the book. I promise, it is time well spent. Besides, it’s inevitable.
After providing justification the author gives a detailed description of the implementation process for a school district. They state, and I agree, that in order to successfully customize learning for all learners the change must be top down. This is a complete systems change and not something that can be accomplished inside of our classrooms. This fact left me feeling somewhat powerless in this face of doing what I know would be best for our learners. Can you imagine a scenario where everyone on your roster was getting personalized education that was best for them? I can. So, what can we do?
Let’s be change agents! Not too long after reading this book I had a conversation about it with another educational leader. We determined that even though one educator can not change our educational system, we can be change agents in our classrooms and organizations. We can help learners develop the intrinsic motivation necessary to take control of their learning. Even the small things like referring to the individuals in your classroom as learners, instead of just students. It’s not mass customization, but we can make changes to customize the learning for those in our classroom. We can personalize the experience for learners and find new ways to differentiate that allow learners to move at their own pace with the amount of support they require at that point in their lives.
Our world is changing faster than ever and it’s our responsibility as educators to adapt and provide our learners with the best chance of success in life after school. Change is inevitable and recent technological developments now make mass customized learning possible. Let’s start thinking about the changes we need to make to keep our public school systems relevant for another 200 years, and beyond.