Cross-posted with the OSD: Learning for the Future blog. If you want some background, you can view all posts about personalized learning here.
Myth: Personalized Learning is a Solo Sport
One misconception about personalized learning is that because it is personal or individualized, it lacks opportunities for students to work together, resulting in isolation. It is easy to see how this misconception can occur, especially if a learning environment has a large technology component. Seeing students "glued" to computers screens evokes concerns of social isolation, maladjustment, and even dystopian futures devoid of human interaction. Regardless of what the student may actually be doing on the computer, it is difficult for the observer to see what is happening. The learner could actually be collaborating with others, but it's hard to tell.
Jim Rickabaugh, director of The Institute @ CESA #1, identifies collaboration as something to look for when evaluating personalized learning:
Unfortunately, isolation can be a result of poor implementation of some teaching and learning strategies which are used to personalized learning. Proficiency-based progress, one of the core components of personalized learning, is often associated with computer-based instruction. In this case, isolation can be real, and this is bad.
We know that there is great value in skills like collaboration, teamwork, communication, and understanding the perspectives of others. As we seek to develop each learner's maximum potential, we must be deliberate about teaching these crucial "soft" skills in addition to traditional academic skills. These interpersonal skills are more personally meaningful, useful, and practical than many purely academic skills, so it is ironic that they would be lacking in "personalized" learning.
In order to meet the needs of learners, teachers must design learning environments in which learners work in groups, discuss ideas, debate solutions, and learn how to disagree with another person's opinion while still conveying respect for the person. Some learners need to process verbally, or "talk it through," to make sense of their learning. Teachers must provide opportunities for students who learn through discussion and interaction. Teachers must also make sure that students for whom discussion and collaboration does not come naturally are still gaining these important skills.
It is challenging to design activities which teach learners how to develop these skills and practice them, while at the same time enabling learners to move at their own pace. However, what we typically call "soft skills" are now some of the most important skills we can give our students. Developing the "whole person" is a vital part of personal learning.
For more information about Personalized Learning in the Oregon School District, see http://pli.oregonsd.net