What does personalized learning really mean?

Mia DiLorenzo, page editor

As we pass through the school system and as new programs are implemented within the district, we often hear the phrase ‘personalized learning’ being used to describe our curriculum and learning environment. However, many students are still confused on what the program really is. Though this program has been implemented for a number of years, a qualitative difference in classroom activity has yet to be discovered. 

I’m not trying to come after the theory of personalized learning; in fact, I’m here to argue the opposite. I think that personalized learning with an emphasis on individual growth is necessary to advance the public school system and its goals. However, the implementation here at EHS leaves much to be desired. 

As I researched for this piece, I wanted to ensure that my perspective wasn’t a singular experience. When I glanced at the Edina Public Schools’ page detailing personalized learning efforts within the district, I noticed that the high school section had something in common: extracurricular efforts. With descriptions of personalized learning opportunities ranging from “[u]nique collaboration brings band and ballet together on stage” to “[a]rt show will bring generations together,” it was clear that the personalized learning opportunities cited were all extracurricular enrichment opportunities. While I completely agree that extracurricular work is underappreciated and often disregarded, personalized learning is about making the in-school education system work for all students. Enrichment opportunities aren’t valuable if the basics aren’t being understood.

Adding extra work to an already overburdened student is both unappealing and unrealistic. During my freshman year, I was never offered an opportunity to work at a pace that was best suited for myself; I know that many of my peers experienced the same. Since both the students and staff still seem to be unclear as to exactly what this new effort would entail, many details seem to have gotten lost. 

I’ve had teachers directly state their confusion as to what personalized learning looks like, and I know students can echo that sentiment. The lack of solid implementation seems to be rooted in the idea that no one is quite sure what a personalized learning classroom environment is supposed to be. Is it using the flex spaces? Is it adding different forms of lectures? Is it utilizing projects rather than tests? 

Regardless of what personalized learning looks like, a lack of a unified definition seems to be the issue. However, the effort was important, and I’m glad the district is realizing the need for a change. But while a change is necessary, the good intentions behind it becomes obsolete without proper implementation. For example, the district can easily survey the student body on their ideal educational environment, create a strong definition of personalized learning, and focus on building a solid base for future educational innovations.

We have the resources and the means to establish a strong individualized learning program. If Edina truly wants to depict themselves as a leader in the movement to de-standardize education, they must recognize their shortcomings and begin to address the students’ concerns.