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May 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 8

Response / Mass Customized Learning: Unfairly Maligned

    Response / Mass Customized Learning: Unfairly Maligned- thumbnail
      In March 2014, Educational Leadership ran an article titled, "Personalization: It's Anything But Personal," by Maja Wilson. The article totally misrepresented a vision that is, at its heart, a deeply humanistic, learner-centered approach to learning. Mass customized learning is about each learner becoming an active, engaged partner with real voice in how he or she learns and how he or she demonstrates knowledge or skill.
      Reacting against this new vision of learning, Wilson fails to identify a single reason why we should continue to prop up our present time-based, assembly-line approach to schooling. The Industrial Age school worked—in the Industrial Age. We're long past that now, and public schools are getting low marks from nearly everyone.
      And that's not the fault of the teacher. It's the fault of the outdated structure of our schools. The last thing that mass customized learning envisions is marginalizing teachers as a result of technology use, as Wilson erroneously asserts. In fact, the teacher's role is of crucial importance in this vision.
      So we'd like to set the record straight. The following three foundational principles of the mass customized learning vision are the key to its popularity:
      Being uncompromisingly learner-focused. The mass customized learning vision moves decisions and structures based on administrative convenience to decisions and structures based on the needs of learners. The youth walking through our doors come to us as experienced learners. Technology has empowered them; they're different from the students of yesterday. This difference has implications for what, how, and where learners will learn. Specifically, learner outcomes need to be based on the challenges and opportunities that learners will face when they graduate. And after we derive each learner's outcomes, the next question isn't, "How and where will we teach this outcome?" but, "How and where is this outcome best learned?" Some outcomes require direct instruction, whereas some are easily learned through technology.
      Faithfully applying intrinsic motivators instead of extrinsic kicks and carrots. Mass customized learning leverages today's customizing technology, enabling learning systems to meet each learner's personal learning needs while simultaneously meeting the learning needs of all other learners. Intrinsically motivated learners are thinking,
      • It hits my learning level. It'll be a challenge, but I think I can learn it.
      • It fits the way I learn best. I was given alternative ways to learn, and I learn best through video.
      • I find the content interesting. I chose it because I love sports—or fashion.
      • I can see where I'll use this learning. My mom and I created a business plan.
      Externally motivated learners stop doing things when extrinsic motivators disappear. Intrinsically motivated learners tend to become lifelong learners.
      Systematically replacing time-based, assembly-line structures with customized, flexible structures. Unfortunately, today's schools are perfectly designed to get the results we're now getting. Currently, specific students of a specific age must learn specific things on a specific schedule in a specific classroom from a specific teacher using specific materials and methods so they can pass specific tests on specific dates—and only then will the system call them "OK." We propose a different approach. To see how learners can create their own customized, flexible schedules—ones that enable them to learn crucial, relevant outcomes in the mode in which these outcomes "are best learned"—see Chapter 7 of our book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning or watch "Lori Schedules Her Learning Plan."
      The mass customized learning vision, designed straight from the ideal learning experience, is needed and doable. If our description of this approach seems like a 180-degree departure from Wilson's portrayal of it in her article—it is. We can no longer afford to prepare teachers for another generation of outdated, underperforming, Industrial Age schools. Our learners deserve better.

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