Student-Centered, Personalized Learning in Policy and Practice: What Teach Plus and New Classrooms Are Doing to Support Innovation in Learning

You might have heard the term “personalized learning” thrown around in recent years, slapped onto an edtech platform or sitting at the center of an education debate. But what does it really mean? In the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, the U.S. Department of Education defined personalized learning as “instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner.”

While previously personalized learning seemed to be synonymous with technology, as more schools, districts, and states implement personalized learning strategies, the focus has shifted from plug and play technology solutions to rethinking the structure of the classroom as we know it. So how are states moving forward with personalized learning initiatives?

One of the states leading the way in this shift is Rhode Island. In this podcast series, Student-Centered Pathways to Student Success, we’ll explore the benefits and challenges that come with this movement towards personalized learning. Listen in to find out what this one state is changing to foster a more student-centered, individualized learning system—and how other states can replicate what they’re doing.

While many believe personalized learning to be achieved by plugging in a technology solution or giving teachers more hours of planning, others see personalized learning as less of an addition to today’s classroom and more of an overhaul of traditional educational practices. Two organizations advocating this approach to personalized learning include Teach Plus, a non-profit organization that aims to empower teachers to transform the system “to best serve minority students and students of color,” and New Classrooms, a non-profit organization “designed to bring personalized learning to more students across the country.”

Roberto Rodriguez, CEO of Teach Plus, says that truly personalized learning requires a shift in perspective from the teacher at the center of the classroom, to the students in the classroom themselves.

“So, in order to create that system that’s really more responsive to their individual needs, we recognize that we need a transformation in our education system that does a better job of putting students at the center of teaching and learning,” says Roberto. “And that better meets them where they are. And optimizes learning for each of their individual needs. And we believe that we can do that while still ensuring that their experiences around teaching and learning are standards-aligned.”

According to Roberto, the traditional school system often features a teacher at the front of a classroom, in which students are treated as empty vessels to fill with knowledge. He says that in order for personalized learning to work, that focus needs to shift.

“Student-centered learning is about putting students at the heart of that equation. Really making sure that they are the focus around what teaching and learning looks like. That they have opportunities to make choices to engage in more active learning to design their learning experience, and to fulfill their potential with learning, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Joel Rose, CEO of New Classrooms, says that in order for these changes to be made at the classroom level, a balance must be struck between the flexibility necessary for personalization, and for the accountability necessary to ensure students succeed.

“I think the question that we are really collectively wrestling with as we sort of move into an era of personalized competency-based learning, is how do we create enough flexibility in the accountability systems so that schools are able to meet the unique needs of each student while also providing the right level of transparency and equity guardrails to ensure all students are set up for success in the longer term.”

So how can personalized learning be implemented in policy and in practice? Listen to our interview with Roberto Rodriguez and Joel Rose to find out what their organizations are doing to support the implementation of personalized learning, and what they think needs to happen for these changes to be made on a national scale.

This podcast episode is brought to you by Teach Plus. Teach Plus is a nonprofit organization designed to empower excellent, experienced teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. To learn more about Teach Plus, visit teachplus.org.

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.