Reflections on TLA’s Blended & Personalized Learning Practices at Work Project: What We Learned and What’s Next
by Daniel Owens on Jan 30, 2017
The Learning Accelerator’s mission is to catalyze the implementation of high-quality blended learning. TLA has worked diligently to capture and share some of the best blended and personalized instructional practices from across the country. Our early work focused on the enablers to blending learning, things that districts need to have in place to make blended learning a reality (e.g. internet connectivity, devices, open education resources, and professional development). Schools and districts have made great strides in these areas over the past three and a half years, and their needs have now shifted to improving blended and personalized instructional practices.
Given the new needs of schools and districts, TLA thought it was important to clarify the key elements of blended and personalized learning, including: personalization, real-time data use, and mastery-based progression. In hopes of providing additional clarity, we toured the nation looking for schools and districts that have implemented these practices well, and we have captured and shared those practices on our Blended & Personalized Learning Practices at Work platform. After an extensive feedback process and time to reflect, we have pulled together several key takeaways from this experience that could be valuable for the field.
Time and again, after stepping foot into each of the schools, an educator would mention that “there is still a lot of progress we hope to make.” Considering the great work they were already doing, this came as an initial surprise. After seeing the trend across all six schools, however, TLA realized that it was part of a mindset and culture of continuous improvement. Education is meant to prepare our youth to excel in the world as adults. This world is changing at a faster pace than ever, and schools will have to change with it in order to best provide for our students.
Much like we learned in Kindergarten, sharing is important
Education budgets will always be tight and fall short of what we truly need to ensure great educational opportunities for all students. As such, saving time and money is a critical component of education, especially when navigating change. Opening your school to outside visitors can be difficult, especially when they want to broadcast the inner workings of your school across the globe. Each of the model schools we visited was more than happy to do so, however, knowing that others would benefit from seeing their practices, as well as the challenges they encountered along the way. Instead of fearing being called out for mistakes, the school leaders welcomed extra eyes on their work in hopes that others could identify areas of improvement. We have no doubt this mentality is part of the reason these schools have excelled in implementing blended and personalized learning, and hope other school districts are able to learn from it as well.
Educators are looking for solutions
Frameworks and structures for blended and personalized learning are important, but many educators often don’t have time to review them while trying to improve their practice (at least not during the school year). Given the information we had at the time, we believed the most valuable way to organize our strategies and resources was to align them to our vision for blended learning. While this alignment has value, it also creates challenges for educators looking for resources. For example, there are 65 different personalization strategies on our website, broken into four subtopics: Differentiation, Student Choice and Agency, Flexible Resource Allocation, and Support for Self-Directed Learning. Educators do not have time to dig through these when they are trying to solve a problem of practice (such as: “I’m teaching to the middle but want to meet the needs of all of my students”). We need to do a better job of repackaging some of this content in a way that more clearly illustrates how educators can solve instructional challenges.
TLA’s Blended & Personalized Learning Practices At Work website features over 150 specific blended and personalized learning strategies. While such abundance is often celebrated, it also presents a challenge for users seeking the practices most relevant to their needs. While this is an issue we are certainly working to improve, it also speaks to a larger issue in the blended and personalized market: there are many high-quality resources which makes it hard to find the exact resource one needs in a quick and simple manner. If we are expecting teachers to provide personalized instruction, we should be holding ourselves to the same standard and creating resources that are personalized as well.
Illustration is a great first step, but more is needed
TLA’s practice work was initiated to help address the question of “what does blended and personalized learning look like in the classroom?” The school models and practices provide quality content for educators, administrators, and design teams considering various aspects of blended and personalized learning. While these resources are helpful, there are a variety of ways they could be improved, including:
- Adding more concise context to strategies to help educators identify those that are most relevant to their needs
- Creating sequences, playlists, and scaffolding to help users start and progress through different practices
- Increasing the connectivity between this work and other organizations doing similar work
We clearly have lots of work to do in hopes of improving the quality and scale of blended and personalized learning across the country. Much like the aforementioned educators, TLA is committed to continuous improvement and sharing the lessons we have learned along the way, and look forward to improving our resources for the blended and personalized educators across the country. If you have other suggestions for how we can improve our platform, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.