‘You are trying to meet kids where they are’ – Michael DeArmond on personalized learning

Michael DeArmond

The rollout of personalized learning is taking the education field by storm.

Experts are still ironing out many aspects of the concept, which tailors instruction to students individual needs and interests.

Is the new learning method sustainable? Can there be a universal definition and program for personalized learning?

Michael DeArmond, a senior research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, who with his colleagues Betheny Gross and Robin Lake, visited schools across the country implementing personalized learning, shared his insights on the topic.

Q: Can a universal model of personalized learning work?

A: There is not one model that is going to work everywhere. We have seen the schools across our project can struggle when they don’t have a clear approach to begin with. A lot of teachers had to invent and discover what it was they wanted to do rather than implement an approach. They almost had to design an approach. I don’t know if you had to design or implement a thing you would do it in ways other schools did.

Q: In schools you visited where personalized learning did not work, what factors resulted in an ineffective approach?

A: There are some core definitional issues schools run into. What are you doing and why are you doing that? Those fundamental questions are not always clear. There is a lot of promise in these ideas and they are appealing to people. You are trying to meet kids where they are. It is an interesting challenge to balance room for innovation and creativity but (at the same time), the need for coherence.

Q: What does a successful personalized learning program look like?

A: Deeply involved senior leadership that sees it as a priority that is aligned with strategic improvement of the organization. It is jointly working with adults and not people working in isolation. There was lot of experimentation in places we visited, in general, but not a lot of support structures to learn from that experimentation.

Q: Have education experts figured out exactly what personalized learning is and how it should be implemented?

A: The field is still trying to figure that out. I don’t think there is a set program of how to do this that people are or aren’t implementing. Part of that story that they are still trying to do is still being defined. In general, people use the phrase ‘personalized learning’ and they mean a wide range of things in practice.