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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Personalized learning works — if done well

Personalized learning shows promise, but there are implementation challenges, writes RAND’s John F. Pane on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

2015 RAND study showed large achievement gains, while a 2017 RAND study reported smaller gains, he writes.

The 2015 sample included only schools that had been implementing whole-school personalized learning for at least two years, and many were members of charter networks that were early pioneers of the concept; more than two-thirds of students were in elementary grades. In contrast, nearly half of the 2017 sample were in their first year of implementation, and only a few were members of those pioneer charter networks; three-quarters of the students were in secondary grades.

In the second study, schools had a wide range of outcomes, writes Pane. Some schools showed large gains, while others had negative results.

Teachers worried that students who started out behind, and then were allowed to work at their own pace, would not cover material on end-of-year tests, he adds. Teachers also said “there are too few ready-made resources to draw on to provide more personalized pathways and activities for students.”

Personalized learning can “lead to improved educational outcomes,” Pane concludes, but “implementers should have modest expectations for the magnitude of the benefits, and patience for the full benefits to emerge.”

Summit students learn cognitive skills through collaborative projects.

Summit Public Schools, a high-performing charter network based in California, has organized its middle and high schools around personalized and project-based learning. The schedule provides time for teachers to do one-on-one mentoring every week.

The network is offering the Summit Learning Program to district, charter and private schools — for free. That includes an online platform, developed with engineering help from Facebook, loaded with a comprehensive, teacher-created curriculum, ideas for student projects, and assessments for grades 5 through 12 in core academic subjects. It also includes summer training for teachers and principals and mentoring and tech support throughout the year.

But most schools don’t have Summit’s flexibility. They’re not staffed by teachers who signed on because they wanted to do personalized + project-based learning. Parents have to be persuaded a new method is right for their kids.

Modest expectations and patience sound about right.

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