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Steiner Ed Tech: Personalised Learning and Professional Development

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This article was written by Adam Steiner and originally appeared on on May 22, 2017. 

Driven by the wide availability of robust learning management systems (LMS) and access to low cost wireless-enabled mobile devices, digital personalised learning for students is all the craze. Personalised learning takes many forms, but generally includes an online platform or learning management system (LMS) that enables the teacher to organise learning activities and resources. Students access this material with a range of support and guidance, and in some cases, even take online assessments built into the LMS. The philosophical justification for this trend is often connected to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a model of curriculum design that emphasises that students should be provided with a range of options that match a variety of learning styles, strengths, and challenges.

Most recently, this same combination of factors has produced major changes in the way many teachers learn. This is no surprise! If all students learn best in different ways, why wouldn’t teachers? UDL suggests that we should provide flexibility in how learners are engaged in learning, how they access information and concepts, and how they demonstrate learning. This goes for teachers as much as it does for kids.

However, this need for personalised learning for teachers as well as students presents a challenge: how can each teacher be given flexibility in HOW they learn while insuring that there is consistency in WHAT they learn. That is where a good LMS like itslearning comes in — it is a way to provide a menu of options in terms of learning activities while also offering a structure that insures that every participant gains the skills and concepts that are needed.

Here are some other key things that school districts should consider when implementing a personalised learning experience for teachers:

  • Keep it simple. Choose your LMS with your least tech-savvy teacher in mind. It’s a good idea to differentiate in the level of sophistication of your learning materials, but none of that is going to make a difference if some of your teachers can’t get past the complexities of the LMS. Find a platform like itslearning that is easy to follow, reliable, and well-designed so it doesn’t get in the way of learning.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. itslearning and other LMS options have a variety of resources worth exploring using in your professional development (PD). In addition, there are a variety of open source collections of online content that can help give your online PD the boost it needs to be successful.
  • Ditch the slides. Every teacher has been e-mailed a set of slides to review with an attached signature sheet. This is not personalised learning, even though it is digital. Skip the slides completely and explore other ways to get your message across. Think about narrated photographs that use some bling: sounds, animation, and movement.
  • Use a variety of media. A good LMS gives you the capability to use all of the senses, so take advantage. Text, pictures, audio, video are all key assets in designing digital PD that will engage.
  • Provide anytime, anywhere access. In addition to flexibility in terms of types of materials, different learners, including teachers, have varied preferences for when to do professional learning and at which pace. Some teachers will find a chunk of time to crank out an entire PD experience. Others will prefer to steal a minute or two while dinner is cooking, the kids are out playing, or when other work is done. Offer equal access for all of these different learners.
  • Chat it up. Nothing kills personalised PD like solitude. Digital learning should still be collaborative and social for students and for teachers. With an LMS like itslearning, you can add real-time chats, bulletin boards, and collaborative documents. Use this functionality to your advantage to get teachers to connect with one another around the topic of the pd.
  • Get your facilitators in the mix. Instructors of digital courses should find ways to be a constant process in the course. That might mean responding to participant comments, posting new and timely content as topics come up, or providing feedback on work that is coming in as quickly as possible. This also goes for online PD. While participants are driving their
  • Don’t pair flexible teaching with rigid assessment. Whether it is formative or summative assessment, there should the same kind of flexibility in how teachers demonstrate learning. Some may prefer a written response that synthesises ideas, some may choose to develop an interactive presentation, and some may select a videotaped demonstration instead, among many other choices. There are a multitude of ways to demonstrate learning, don’t restrict teachers to just one.