Not Your Parents’ Education


When I was in high school, the idea of personalized learning or a personalized curriculum seemed laughable. My job position and my school definitely hadn’t been invented or even thought of yet! However, throughout human history, learning used to be highly personal through educational concepts such as oral histories and apprenticeships. In fact, it was only with the advent of industrialized education that the de-personalization of education actually commenced.

Now the pendulum is swinging back. But as Richard Culatta stated in his Ted Talk, it is not enough to simply “digitize the status quo”. Personalization using technology can’t just use a traditional classroom’s methodologies and setup. Personalized learning provides alternatives to all students to better suit their needs as well as the needs of a changing economy and workforce.

Many times the “one-size-fits-all” approach is not effective for the student or the teacher. So you may be wondering…how exactly does our school program accomplish personalized student learning? Well, try to bear with me as I explain.

Instead of being a typical classroom teacher, my job position is a hybrid teacher leadership role at a blended learning public high school program that serves students in our county that feel traditional school is not meeting their needs. Participating public schools in our country range from the top ten in the state to schools designated as “failing” by NCLB standards.

I instruct classes two days a week, advise students throughout their time in our program, create personalized learning options, and coordinate curriculum. Some days I run small groups or 1:1 learning. Our entire curriculum model (developed and maintained by all of our teachers) is always available and accessible to students online. If personalized learning is filtered through technology, then technology can also collect useful data to help students make decisions to best fulfill their education.

Personalized learning does not mean utilizing teachers any less. In fact, if schools and administrators are implementing true personalized learning, they need educators just as much or more.

My program has developed a competency-based model where students have to demonstrate their proficiency and mastery of national and state standards. Student projects are designed to be interdisciplinary and students can earn credits in multiple areas with the same project at their own individualized pace. Of course, there are required courses that every student in our state has to complete to graduate high school. The difference with personalized learning is letting students know that they can demonstrate competency in multiple ways.

I truly believe that especially for high schools, personalized learning models similar to the current program I helped build address the issues that traditional school setups are facing.

Traditionally, we have been asking students to sit and receive knowledge from one person when post-graduation, that knowledge is flowing all around them. Nowhere else will their education be compartmentalized and fragmented as it is when they’re in a traditional high school. After high school, success and achievement are not confined to a specific age. It is for all of these reasons that more programs should consider personalizing student learning.

Quick Tips for Personalizing Student Learning

  • Embrace technology
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Empower teachers & students to customize their learning paths
  • Allow for multiple ways for assignments to be completed
  • Create collaborative work time for teachers and students


Headden, S. (2013). “The promise of personalized learning.” Education Next, 13(4), 14-20.  Hoover Institution. Stanford, CA.

sarahSarah Giddings is a National Board Certified teacher in social studies and history. She is currently an advisor, multi-subject instructor, and curriculum coordinator for the Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education—a Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium high school program. She is a 2015-2016 National Hope Street Group fellow and a Michigan Educator Voices fellow.

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