The nation’s schools are aggressively working to fight systemic inequities, but there is one many overlook. Learning is not truly personalized.

It’s “tweaked” to individualize within narrow lanes of an age-old whole-group structure of how learning is delivered to the masses. It is not built for personalized learning; it is built for segmenting by grades and whole group classrooms.

This is a system that has failed many students for over a hundred years. It’s generalized and engineered for the non-specific collective. If you bristle at this suggestion and think your school does do a lot of personalization, keep in mind that most educators define “personalized” as one of two things:

1) an individual education plan that is still maneuvering between existing whole group offerings at the same pace as other students in the same grade, and

2) an adaptation by a teacher to directly instruct the individual student and give extra material or assignments, still within the same pace as all other students in the class or course.

“Personalized,” by these definitions is still not really personalized, it’s individualized within a narrow construct. At the time of this writing in late Spring 2021, and all during the pandemic of the past year, a median of 5,090,000 students opted out nationally from traditional public education for alternatives, with the clear leader being consumer-market homeschooling curriculum and secondly, private enterprise online schools. The last gainer was charter schools and newborn online offerings of traditional schools.

In many cases, just the inaccessibility of schools during the lockdowns forced the opt-out. If asked, what parents were communicating was a frustration with the lack of flexibility, including real personalization of the old system. Schools were busily rolling out devices, but most maintained their structure of learning over video conferencing which was, again, a construct of grades and classes and classroom teachers who are the point of distribution. This gave parents a new way to mix together their own custom plans. They did so in numbers never before seen, putting nearly all schools now on the defense to win them back.

Isn’t it time to make the case for a new way?


About the author

Chris McMurray is the Vice President of EduJedi Leadership at the Learning Counsel. Formerly, he was an assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, elementary teacher, instructional coach and teacher. He is a creative organizational leader with a passion for systems innovation and adult learning, combining experience in educational leadership, organizational transformation, marketing, and business development.