Sir Ken Robinson on “Personalized Learning”

Thank you to “PW” for posting this content as a comment on Nov. 20th–I wanted to repost to draw attention to what Sir Ken Robinson says about Personalized Learning:
“Personalized learning, to me, is the process of contouring learning to the individuals that you’re dealing with, recognizing that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, different interests [and] different ways of learning.” 

“It isn’t that everyone has to learn different things, although eventually our interests will take us in different directions,” he continued. “But in terms of the things we want all people to learn … personalized learning is finding the best ways to engage with people with different interests, passions and ways of thinking.”

It’s what good teachers have always known, he added. “That their job is not to teach subjects, but to teach students.”

Read more in the Vancouver Sun article from August 23, 2011 :

Is “Personalized Learning” having an Identity Crisis?

In article in the Alberta Teacher’s Association Magazine (Volume 91 2010-11, Number 1), writer Phil McCrae discusses the Politics of Personalization in the 21st Century.

IDENTITY CRISIS: McCrae argues that “personalized learning is not a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of teaching approaches, but an idea that is struggling for an identity.”

“Governments and school jurisdictions around the world are pulling together a mélange of policy priorities that range from focusing on emerging technologies to increasing students’ active community engagement in learning. Just as with past educational reform efforts, personalized learning is now being represented by a complex collection of voices ranging from those who are critically informed to the misleading and myopic zealousness of those who focus on technology as the metaphor for all change in an education system.

McCrae warns that “as Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley suggest, personalized learning is often a Third Way reform effort driven by business-like customization, and deeper learning is constrained by the forces of accountability and performance.”

As such, “ultimately, we need to individually and collectively (re)define this term, and in doing so be empowered to share a vision of what knowledge and pedagogical approaches are of most worth in the 21st century.”

I absolutely agree that we need to be aware of who is defining personalized learning and what agenda they bring.  What do you think? Reactions? Whose voices are defining personalized learning?  Whose voices are being left out?

Can something ever truly be “personalized”?

Without rushing to a dictionary, think for moment about the definition of “personalized”.  Think about it in the context of making something “personalized” for another person.  When can we know for certain that something has achieve status as being perfectly “personalized”?  Is such a state even possible?

A coffee mug can be “personalized” by having it’s owner’s name, title, photo, or slogan printed on the side of it–but surely we mean something more meaningful than that when it comes to personalized/personalizing learning!?  Monogramming is not personal in the deepest way.  (Or am I wrong?  Can we think of any culture examples of this?)

Getting a little deeper, consider: could you ever have a suit of clothes perfectly personalized?  It might be made of the fabric colour, weight, and texture of your preference and the shape, style and measurements might seem perfect–but there is the chance for error.  The error could come from the tailor’s misjudgment of your measurements or mistake or your own unique perceptual experience.  There might be a seam that bunches, a tag that irritates you, or a shoulder pads that never sit right.  It might feel like the perfect thing to wear to a business meeting, but it could be inappropriate for the basketball game in the company courtyard.  It could keep your temperature feeling great one cloudy, but you might feel overheated when the sun comes out.

I was intuitively more comfortable with the notion of “Personalizing Learning” over the more definite “Personalized Learning”.  And because I feel I am in the process of learning about personalizing learning, this is what inspired the title of this blog.  Dr. David Hargreaves was an contributor early in the personalized/personalizing learning movement.  He chose the progressive verb form of “personalizing” to emphasize that we should aim for more of a process rather than a product.

I feel that what I work to do for students is engage in the iterative process of personalizing their learning; I don’t know that I could look back with confidence on any lesson or activity and call it %100 personalized.  Can anyone?

A key focus for this blog will be to explore ways of defining “personalized” and “personalizing”.

What do you think?  At what point can we be certain in saying that something has achieved a final state of being “personalized“?