Customized Learning, Curriculum, & Cross Industry Borrowing

Since Customized Learning starts with the premise that how we design our educational systems needs to reflect the facts that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes, educators often get frustrated quickly with trying to figure out what they are going to do with 25 students each learning different things at different times, or what they will do with that student that finishes their course in March…

Some of that angst comes from folks, new to performance-based learning models, misunderstanding how most schools implement those models (totally understandable, since most teachers have never experienced performance-based learning themselves). But I think the challenge comes primarily by trying to fit Information Age teaching and learning into Industrial Age structures, like putting a square peg In a round hole. (For schools doing this work, I don’t think we can remind them often enough that Deming, the man who invented Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our challenges come not from people, but from our structures.)

The square peg is instruction that recognizes which measurement topic a student needs today, giving them instruction, coaching, and support while they master it, using assessment to provide feedback, until the measurement topic is mastered.  The round hole is learning organized into semester- and year-long courses where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, assessments simply tell teachers who knows the material and who doesn’t, but the course moves on to the next topic, whether everyone is ready or not.

Bea McGarvey points out that when teachers ask “Well, then, how should we structure our schools?” she responds, “Yes, how should we?” and reminds us all that creating the schools we need today will require educators to develop strong problem-solving and invention thinking.

But she and her co-author, Chuck Schwahn, also point out in their book Inevitable, that we do not need to invent from scratch.  In fact, in most industries, they participate in something called “Cross Industry Borrowing,” (see Chapter 2 of Inevitable) where they see how other industries solve similar problems and then adapt those solutions to their own situation. For example, what would it mean to education if every day we could tell how many students where on benchmark with a math concept, just as Walmart knows at 5pm how many pair of sneakers have been sold that day.  Or if students received recommendations for how they might enjoy learning the next measurement topic, just like Amazon.com suggests other books you might like.

So when educators start looking at the structures they might employ for organizing the curriculum for customized learning, where might they look, if they don’t want to start from scratch?  For me, the question gets reframed as “who has structures in place for certifying learning?” 

Bea is quick to point out, for example, that if you want to become a CPA, you can retake the test as many times as you need to, and you only need to retake the portions you did not pass (teachers newer to the profession know the same is true of the Praxis tests).

Modern manufacturing and assembly plants have new employees master individual skills before progressing on to the new skill, and aren’t certified in the position until they master all the skills for that position.

They U.S. military has a performance based educational system. Ironically, I think most people equate military training with boot camp and it’s focus on taking direction. But once through boot camp, most advanced training is a well organized combination of skill development, and cognitive training. There is great transparency.  Manuals are available for almost any desired advancement or certification, and service men and women can find out exactly what they need to know and be able to do in order to achieve their goal.

But for me, as I think about how the curriculum might be organized for customized leaning, the model I keep coming back to is the Boy Scouts. 

Tomorrow, I will look more closely at this model and what it might mean for schools looking to organize curriculum for customized learning.


It’s Your Turn:

Where do you see ideas from other “industries” for implementing customized learning?





About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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One Response to Customized Learning, Curriculum, & Cross Industry Borrowing

  1. Shelley Joan Weiss says:

    I always take the best about effective leadership from innovative practitioners – whether they are in education, non-profits, military, or business. Future oriented, effective practices focusing on people first are the best – regardless of the environment they are practiced in. When individuals lose focus on the most important components – relationships, clear communications, honest input and feedback – they limit opportunities to succeed. I love Mike’s forward thinking and practices and encourage others to learn from him.

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