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How to Infuse Innovation in a Personalized-Learning Model

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August 9th, 2018

To compete in the modern age, students and teachers look outside traditional learning models.

Education has been slower to adapt to personalization than other sectors. In fact, much of education is still pushing for standards and the standardization that comes with them. Ironically enough, technological advancements, particularly in the world of analytics and “big data,” first led education to trend towards standardization. Original electronic assessments encouraged standardization because of ease of implementation. Few teachers had yet harnessed the power that technology had to personalize the content, pace, and method of learning for students.

While many educators resist standardization by infusing personalized learning into their curriculum, there is room for many more to try it. One reason for this is that teachers lack concrete examples of how other teachers in similar positions have used personalized learning and opportunities for innovation. Examining instances in which teachers have integrated opportunities for Innovation into a personalized learning model offers insight for teachers who would like to test the waters in their own classrooms.

One of the challenges of offering opportunities for innovation in the classroom is that it can feel like a large departure from traditional teaching and learning. However, there are several common elements and themes that appear in successful instances of innovation. Two of these common elements are introducing authentic projects and embracing non-traditional class structures.

Introduce Authentic Projects

This teacher and her class developed a real-world project to bring awareness about cystic fibrosis to her community. The class was inspired because one of the students in the class suffered from cystic fibrosis. The students were able to develop their literacy skills through contacting people to help participate in the project, while also making a real impact outside of the classroom.

Other classes could integrate this type of project, allowing students to work in small groups to choose a small project to work on that would affect a real issue outside of the classroom. Additionally, this would allow students to demonstrate and practice skills that they, individually, needed to work on.

Embrace Non-Traditional Class Structures

Another way to integrate innovation into personalized learning is to embrace non-traditional class structures, both physically and philosophically. My fellow New Jersey teacher Matthew Morone demonstrates this with his “Open Classroom” project. In his high school English class, students must meet all of the standards that other students in school are held to, but they get there with two very distinct differences:

  1. The students can show mastery of these standards in a variety of ways (in other words, they have a choice in how they are assessed).
  2. The classroom contains modern, cafe-like furniture, allowing students to physically arrange themselves in the way that best suits their learning.

These two attributes are perfect for personalized learning because they allow students to leverage their best skills in order to demonstrate mastery of content. Additionally, it allows students to take the time they need to master content that challenges them, and move quickly through topics that are easier for them.

Not surprisingly, this Open Classroom structure has led to students also embracing meaningful projects that have an impact outside of the classroom. Several of Morone’s classes have fulfilled research requirements by creating non-profits related to issues that they care about, and holding events or otherwise making a real impact on these self-selected issues. (Read more about Morone’s Open Classroom.)

Not Without Its Challenges

Infusing innovation into personalized learning does not come without its challenges. Students, even youngsters who are digital natives and have grown up with access to technology and mobile devices, are still conditioned into the typical notions of education.

For starters, many students have a hard time moving past the traditional motivators of school like grades and class rank, and actually pursuing the topics and tasks that they care about. Don Wettrick, Innovation Coordinator at Noblesville High School and education author, states“I’ve talked with literally hundreds of teachers that tell me the biggest obstacle in students involved in Genius Hour is first identifying what they are interested in.”

To address this challenge, it’s important for teachers to lead from the front by modeling and sharing their own learning experiences. Teachers can even be open about the fact that the innovation and personalized learning models in the classroom are new and unfamiliar to the teacher, showing students that it’s okay to try new things and be uncertain about the outcome.

It’s no surprise that many teachers have concerns about offering opportunities for innovation in the classroom because the projects look so different from traditional teaching. However, by opening the class up to possibilities, and acknowledging that there may be some roadblocks along the way, teachers have the chance to transform their classrooms in ways that were impossible in the not so distant past. Finally, and most importantly, classrooms that integrate personalized learning and offer opportunities for innovation can engage students in meaningful learning experiences, allowing them to become participants in their educations like never before.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

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