Key Takeaway: The reflections from students, teachers, and parents in this study show how the personalized learning experience not only produced expert learners but connected members of the learning community, which proved to be a meaningful and valuable experience to all involved. —Nika Espinosa
Summary: Suzanne Porath (Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS) and Dana Hagerman (College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI) ask the question:
“In what ways, if any, can a personalized, learner-centered environment, as implemented at Rolling Hills Middle School, develop the principles of connected learning?”
According to Porath and Hagerman,
“Connected learning is a form of personalized learning that can renew classrooms and schools to not only focus on the needs and interests of the learner but can support learners in making connections with their experiences, peers and teachers, content standards, multiple disciplines, and the community.”
In their study, 55 8th grade students were provided with two, 2-hour classes. The first of two classes was a STEM class with a combination of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and the second class was a humanities class incorporating social studies and literacies. The students spent the remainder of the day taking their specialist classes.
Feedback from students, parents, and teachers was analyzed by organizing comments into categories. In the first cycle of data analysis, a few categories emerged as most prevalent: family/community, peers, standards/learning, projects, student interests, and connections.
Key takeaways are focused on the principles and design of connected learning that relate to Wolfe and Poon’s Personalized Learning:1
- Interest-powered: One of the early findings during the study was that a lot of students found it challenging to find their own interests. As a result, developing learner profiles to allow the students to reflect was something the teachers felt was necessary to implement the year after.
- Peer-supported: Students and parents both highlighted the impact of the intentional development of a peer-supported learning community. One student reflected on the shift from working with just their friends at the beginning of the year to working with other students in the classroom. They realized that everyone works differently and found peers they worked well with.
- Academically-oriented: Academic standards and aligned learning objectives were transparent to the students, and the students had a voice in determining when and how they were going to meet them. One student described the process as “learning how to take standards and take things that people want us to meet and create a unique project that will meet those.” By having teachers take on a facilitating role, students were able to design lessons that showcased their skills.
- Production-centered: Student interest, choice, and peer support were integral to the projects throughout the year. There was a shift towards the end of the year from teacher-guided products to products that were less restricting, as students gained experiences in their personalized journeys
- Shared purpose: Teachers and students both recognized that standards needed to be achieved and that there was a shared purpose of learning. Learning experiences moved from teacher-developed to student-created. A culture was created where student opinion was factored into the development of creating these environments.
- Openly networked: Porath and Hagerman quotes Ito et al., “Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity.”2 Combining different subjects, such as science and math and humanities and language arts, provides the students with opportunities to make connections in their learning.
Porath, S., & Hagerman, D. (2021). Becoming connected learners through personalized learning. Middle School Journal, 52(2), 26-37.
Summary By: Nika Espinosa - Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.
- Wolfe, R. E., & Poon, J. D. (2015). Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching. Jobs For the Future.
- Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., ... & Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.