Personalized Learning and Technology

There seems to a buzz building around Personalized Learning in British Columbia (BC).  We’ve heard bits and pieces here and there  and that there are “secret” meetings in Victoria about this and the coming education agenda.  Intriguing isn’t it.  I’m looking forward to hearing more and to being a participant.

Our Superintendent recently shared a video from New Brunswick at our Welcome Back meeting.  It’s a pretty exciting vision of 21st century education.  Technology is certainly a key lever to these changes.
From Wikipedia “Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners”.  The article goes on to suggest that personalized learning gives the learner more choice about what is learned and how and when it is learned.  In other words, it is learner focused, not teacher focused.  Alberta Education has produced an Inspiring Education resource to share their vision for the future of education in 2030 where it “Envisions students who are engaged, ethical and entrepreneurial”.

For British Columbia (borrowed from @chrkennedy’s presentation):

21st Century Skills:

3 R's
  • reading
  • writing
  • numeracy
8 C's
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • creativity and innovation
  • collaboration, teamwork, and leadership
  • cross-cultural understanding
  • communications, information and media literacy
  • computing and ICT literacy
  • career and learning self-reliance
  • caring for personal health and planet earth
There seems to be a heightened awareness that our current education system, designed for a much different era of industrialization and basic literacy, needs a healthy overhaul.  This video on the Alberta Inspiring Education site speaks to rethinking grades, the number of years “in school”, etc.  These are fundamental structures and standards that will be difficult to move away from but it’s encouraging to see governments actually questioning them.
I’m currently half way through reading The Element BookSir Ken Robinson’s latest book.  Many of you will probably remember his famous TED talk (see below) “Do schools kill creativity”.  He tells many interesting stories about people who found their “Element” but in indirect ways.  Their journeys are very personalized and involved freedom and support to choose their path.  To quote Sir Ken, “The Element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being in it.  The features are aptitude and passion.  The conditions are attitude and opportunity.  The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?”  Personalized Learning may be the way we help people find their “Element”…
I think it is important to note (my opinion) that technology (in general) is now the key driver of almost every change, good or bad.  Technology in its many forms has an exponential change curve.  With each successive innovation, the we travel the exponential curve faster – ie, the leading edge is becoming shorter and the trailing edge steeper.  Just think back 100 years at how long some changes took and short recent ones take.  The adoption and saturation of new innovations is becoming shorter each decade.  Many of us feel like change is relentless…  well, that’s the effect of exponential change curves.  The changes we will see by 2020 will eclipse anything we experienced from 2000-2010.

Technology is not the only factor in Personalized Learning.  Part of being human is being relational, working together, supporting each other, being a team player, thinking ethically, having moral perspective, learning to lead, knowing how to follow, etc.  These skills and abilities are as crucial to future success, I believe more so, as are ICT skills and abilities.  In fact the human factors are more important than ever.  I wrote a summary for a conference (World Future Society) I recently attended and when you consider the changes we’re facing over the next 20 years, the human element is clearly the most important to develop in young learners.

I wonder what others are thinking about the future of education.  Where does Personalized Learning sit with you?  How do you see technology fitting in?  Is it a support, a change agent, a danger, …  we have big challenges ahead with major moral dilemmas to face.  What form of education will prepare learners for this future?


  1. Interesting post... I am almost through reading 'The Element'... a great read, I related to many of his scenarios. Thanks for your sweet comments on my blog too! :-)

  2. Great post Brian! I had to double check the name on the top because it sounded like something I would have written!

    I was wondering if you would be interested in exchanging guest posts? I think our interests are very similar and your thinking would be very welcome on my blog. Does this sound interesting to you?

  3. Andrew (Crudbasher) - I've not thought about guest posts. Why would you want to and how does it work? I've read some of your posts and there are some similarities in thinking.

  4. Hi Brian,

    Well the way it works is we pick a common topic and each write about it. Then we exchange posts and put them on our blogs. Usually we also include a short bio and a link to the other blog. It's a good way to introduce our readers to other similar blogs and helps get some fresh thinking into our site.

    If you want to proceed, you can email me on gmail. (I'm crudbasher at gmail ) If this doesn't sound like something you want to do, then that's fine too! Thanks!

  5. Hi Brian,

    Please find attached an article that I have just written entitled, "The Politics of Personalization in the 21st Century".

    It lays out many of the issues surrounding this ambiguous and broadly defined movement. I was also just on a panel with the Calgary Board Chief Superintendent and Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd discussing this at times contentious issue.

    This fits with another piece that I did on horizons of technological change to be included in the national press kit for Canada's Media Awareness Week 2010.

    What is happening in British Columbia with the terminology and how it is being framed?

    Philip McRae, Ph.D.

  6. Phil - great article. You hit on something pretty important with respect to digitally supported learning "digital spaces have the potential to limit students to only the content that they want to see, hear and read about". I have worried about this - I read "The Dumbest Generation" and worried more. There seems to be an argument for forced learning to experience what we might not choose ourselves. Students may miss out on a gift by personalizing their learning (aka narrowing their focus, path, experiences).

    British Columbia has not yet officially communicated on this topic. We believe this will occur sometime in November so stay tuned...

    I also enjoyed your "futures" article. The future is an interesting place to go!

  7. Thanks Brian,

    Looking forward to keeping the discourse on 'personalized learning' as we collectively co-create our preferred futures. We need to own the concept as educators, not inherit digitally personalized educational pathways from a corporate force looking to profit from public education systems.

    All my best,

  8. Love your blog. It was helpful information when I wrote an opinion column, last week (April 1, 2011) on Personalized Learning for The Tri-City News called, Let's Get Personal, But First, Let's Get Real. Keep up your amazing work! Thanks, Tara

  9. @Tara - glad you're finding my ramblings helpful. I love to share and engage in ideas so the blog is a great way to do that. Thanks for stopping by. BTW, I read your article - nice work. Sir Ken's work gets another mention :-)


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