Personalising Learning


The Ministry of Education have just released their discussion document Let’s Talk About Personalising Learning (PDF download) which is available through the TKI site.

I’ve been waiting to see this since hearing Education Minister Steve Maharey speak so passionately on the topic at the ULearn conference earlier this year. His focus on personalized learning reflects what is happening on other parts of the world, where an increased emphasis on meeting then needs of individual learners, providing greater flexibility and choice within our education system, is a key goal of government education strategy.

The NZ discussion document focuses on these areas:

  • effective teaching
  • assessment for learning
  • curriculum
  • strong and engaged communities
  • professional leadership
  • highly supportive system

Most of what is discussed in the document around each of these areas draws together elements of existing initiatives within the NZ system, illustrating how these might contribute towards personalising learning. As it says in the document, By personalising learning, we???re identifying the strengths of New Zealand???s education system. By building on these strengths, we will be able to achieve the following:

    Children and young people will:

  • have high expectations and can take control of their own learning
  • learn how to learn and work with others, with support and challenges
  • have a much better understanding of the learning process
  • identify the knowledge they???ve gained and the next stepsbe supported at home and in the family/ wha??nau and community
  • be involved in planning their children???s future education and supporting their children to plan their learning pathways.

Interestingly, there is no actual definition provided. There are plenty of suggestions of what personalising learning might be, including:

  • working to build a system that is geared up to equip every young person for the future
  • a way of renewing Clarence Beeby???s vision of equal opportunity for all students
  • not only about putting students at the centre of our system.. but about making learning meaningful for them
  • regarding students as individuals who engage in a dynamic, two-way process

. Acknowledging that, the first suggestion made in the final section on how do we put personalising learning into practice? suggests that schools ask themselves “how do we define personalising learning?”

Internationally, there is similar work going on, In 2005 the DfES in the UK released a white paper called Higher Standards, Better Schools for All – that sets the scene for personalized learning, focusing on increasing choice for parents and students.

They’ve since set up their DfES Personalised Learning website for the UK personalised learning initiative, providing details of the five components that they’ve identified:

  • assessment for learning,
  • effective teaching and learning
  • curriculum entitlement and choice
  • organising the school
  • beyond the classroom

(note the parallels with the NZ document)

There are already some interesting perspectives coming through from the UK research, including this list of Personalised Learning Research Summaries – a series of research reports written by eight head-teachers and/or deputy head-teachers/vice principals in the UK who’ve written on each of the five components of personalized learning as set out by the DfES.

One of my favourite background papers on personalized learning comes from the UK’s FutureLab titled Personalisation and Digital Technologies, in which, as the title suggests, there is an exploration of the ways in which ICTs can and are contributing to the personalisation of learning.

Well, the scene is set – it will be interesting now to see in what direction(s) the NZ education system goes. Will personalising learning simply become the current ‘buzz term’, ensuring that anyone who is clever enough to include reference to it in their planning or reports will achieve a tick for their funding approval – or might this be the catalyst for truly transforming an education system that is undoubtedly still intensely “institution-centric” and “delivery-focused”?

2 thoughts on “Personalising Learning

  1. Hi Derek, I quickly scanned this report the other day and wondered if a more productive approach might have been a document that stitched together both the compulsory schools sector with Tertiary education. Phrases like “Children and young people” might more usefully be replaced by the term learners of all ages.

    It might be that there is indeed joined up government thinking around all of this and that different ministers and departments are in step with each other. However, if this isn???t the case then it would seem to be an opportunity missed to have some coherence in terms of lifelong and life-wide learning.

  2. You’re quite right, Stephen. I spent yesterday with a group of principals and business leaders in a regional NZ town, discussing their desire to create a “lief-wide” approach to education in the town. I discussed this document with them, and that very point became clear as I reflected on things – it’s pitched purely at the school level, while the assumptions and implications of a truly personalised learning environment would most likely pay particular attention to the transistion between these stages of formal schooling – into adulthood and the workplace.

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