Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

You Cannot Buy Your Way to Personalized Learning

When I decided to change the way I taught, I didn’t have a system.  I had a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts, a lot of failures to push me forward in my quest to be a better teacher.  I had kids who hoped that school would be about them again.  I had parents that hoped that their kids would like school when their year with me was done.  I had dreams of something different, but I didn’t have a clear path, I didn’t have a curriculum to follow.  If I would have, I don’t know where I would have ended up.

You see, when you choose to make learning more personal to the students, it is not about buying a curriculum.  It is not about buying a solution.  Or even reading a book and following the step-by-step directions to make it more personal.  It is not about finding the new tool so that you can adapt and make it fit all of your learners.  In fact, it may be just the opposite. It is about getting to know your students, getting to know yourself, and then finding as much inspiration you can to become a better teacher for all of your kids.  So when I wrote my book, Passionate Learners, it wasn’t so that others could teach like me, but instead so others could start to question their own teaching as well.  I didn’t want to give directions, but just ideas, questions, and things to reflect on.  Because making learning about the kids again means that we have to be the ones to figure it out.  Because they are our kids, in our schools, and no one can tell us better than what they need than them.

Personalized learning is not about a system.  It is not about a box.  It is not about a computer where students can self-pace as they work through a set curriculum.  It is not about a checklist, nor learning in isolation.  Personalizing learning is about what is right for the kid that is in front of you at that very moment.  About helping them get to a place where they can figure out what they need and what they would like to accomplish.   And yes, sometimes that kid doesn’t know what they need and then it becomes our job to help them figure it out.   It is not about what you can do for the students to take control of their learning, it is about what they can do.  Personalizing learning is indeed what great teaching is all about; knowing the students and helping them find ways to make all learning worth doing again. 

So if someone tries to sell you or your school a  personalized learning system, a personalized learning curriculum, or even a technology solution so that all students can work at their own pace, I would stop and think about that for a moment.  How can they possibly promise you personalized when it is far from personal?  How can someone who does not know your students, your school, your needs, deliver something that will fit all of those things?

Education is a business and we should never forget that.  As much as we may think that every person who creates something for the education market is in it for the right reasons, we would be fools if we truly believed that.  Much like every other educational buzzword, personalized learning will become the new cash cow until a new buzzword overtakes it.  Don’t let companies ruin what kids need.  Don’t fall for the sales pitches.  Personalizing learning for students means the emphasis is on the personal and for the personal to happen, we have to know our kids and we have to listen to our kids.  Not a company.  Not a sales pitch.  But the voices of the very students we teach.  And that is free.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



6 thoughts on “You Cannot Buy Your Way to Personalized Learning”

  1. Wonderful sentiments regarding your journey. I’ve found the same to be true. Also, when I ask kids what they think school should look like, the words “personal”, “interests” and “passion” seem to be common. Thanks for this and all your work!

  2. That’s exactly what your book did for me….question, rethink…and just begin…and figure out what my students needed….one by one….and together at times…..thank you….

  3. What you said…

    But I wonder if it’s too late, if the word has already been co-opted to the point where it’s useless to try to save it. And to be honest, it was never the right word anyway. It’s personal learning that we want, and maybe we need to just stop adding the -ized part altogether. We shouldn’t personalize learning for kids; we should only create the conditions where they can pursue their personal interests and flourish as learners.

    1. Great point, I think it has. I read what you wrote and have been starting to use the term “personal” learning too. All we can do is keep trying to spread the message and more importantly, have our students speak up.

  4. Thank you for your post, Pernille. I so feel like the technology companies are dictating what we are teaching our students. I walk by classrooms and see that in the majority of classes the students staring at screens. I just cringe. Where is the reading? Where is the discussion? Where is the teaching? Where is the “personalized learning”? We have students so engrossed in technology at home and we are worried about their tech usage, yet we are promoting it as school since we are now 1:1 K-12!! I feel whole heartedly that personalized learning has to be personal…a computer program does not meet that.

  5. Great post. In addition to being a public school teacher, I am the parent of 3 unschoolers. One of the reasons for that is that as a family we believe in the importance of honoring each other’s interests. What is so interesting to me in public schools is that there is little value placed on what other people find interesting. Very few teachers, for example, get to know their students and design curricula according to those interests. How can we expect students to be respectful of other people when the system that “educates” them is doing the opposite? It’s time to bring interest back to school.

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