Personalized Learning is a necessary commodity for a V.U.C.A. world

How should learning look in a V.U.C.A. world? V.U.C.A. is an acronym that stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The age-old dependable formula of traditional school being used today is not enough to prepare students for a VUCA world.


Spencer and Juliani (2017) in their book, Empower: What happens when students own their learning, stated that many students in traditional schools were and still are actively compliant, “trying to navigate a system that was designed to produce people who follow the rules and waited to be told what to do.” After graduation, many students, including some of us, waited for someone to tell us what to do.

Opposite of traditional schooling is personalized learning. Personalized learning is the best approach to mass education within a VUCA world because a VUCA world needs students who are go-getters, decision makers, designers, creators, and dreamers. According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) personalized learning tailors instruction, expression of learning, and assessment to each student’s unique needs and preferences. Additionally, personalized learning foster’s self-regulated learning and self-directed learning skills needed for a VUCA world.

In sum, Spencer and Juliani (2017) submitted, “our job is not to prepare students for something; our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.” By employing the principles of personalized learning, we can effectively prepare students for a VUCA world.


Turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from 

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. J. (2017). Empower: What happens when students own their learning.

Finding the Sweet Spot in Personalized Learning

The optimum point at which the most effective contact occurs, is known as the Sweet Spot. Hence, what is the optimum point of personalized learning?


According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Personalized learning tailors instruction, expression of learning, and assessment to each student’s unique needs and preferences. Hence, learners are the heart of personalized learning because they have to make the choice to interact with the content and they have to decide how much attention and effort they will devote towards the learning task. In other words, the optimum point or the sweet spot of personalized learning is the learner’s ability to self-regulate and to be self-directed during the learning task.

So what is the difference between self-regulated learning (SRL) and self-directed learning (SDL)? According to Pamela Bracey’s Literature Review, self-regulated learners decide what, when, where, and how to learn. They also choose how much effort they will employ on the metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral aspects of learning. On the other hand, self-directed learners diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources necessary for learning, choose appropriate learning strategies, and evaluate their learning outcomes. With self-directed learners, the learning is self-paced and usually initiated with an incentive and/or an interest.


SRL and SDL are both necessary in a web-enhanced classroom in order to support the learner’s acquisition of knowledge and skills. Furthermore, the more sophisticated the learning needs of the learner, the more self-directed and self-regulated the learner will become. Adler (2011) in his Paideia Proposal, submitted that learners need to know the what of learning but not at the expense of the how for learning. Hence, by allowing learners to choose what, when, where, and how to learn, teachers are supporting SRL. When learners take the initiative to diagnose their learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify resources necessary for learning, choose appropriate learning strategies, and evaluate their learning outcomes, then they are at the why for learning. In other words, they are becoming self-directed learners. Teachers can support SDL by teaching students to use feedback, to self-assess, and to set learning goals.

Paideia Curriculum Framework

What makes SDL and SRL the sweet spot of personalized learning? First, students need to have an ample amount of self-directed and self-regulated learner characteristics since these learning dispositions help students reach the optimum point of personalized learning.

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Second, SDL and SRL support student agency, student identity, and student power. In an earlier post, student agency was defined as the making and remaking of the students’ self, the students’ identity, and the students’ relationships. Student identity was defined as the ability to be able to identify with a particular discourse community or identifying with the language of various learning communities. Finally, student power was defined as productive power built on rich relationships and high quality interactions. SDL and SRL provides students with space to develop their intellectual skills and to enlarge their understanding of ideas and values related to the learning outcomes.

In sum, possessing SDL and SRL skills are necessary for 21st century learning. The instructional design process for web-enhanced classrooms can not meet the unique learning needs or preferences of students without consideration of SDL and SRL, the sweet spot of personalized learning.


Adler, Mortimer J. (2011). The Paideia program: An educational syllabus. New York: Macmillan.

Turn your classroom into a personalized learning environment. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017, from 

Learning Objects promote personalized learning

As I do more and more research on personalized learning, I realize that student voice can easily be incorporated into lesson designs. One way that students can contribute to their own learning is by creating learning objects. Learning objects are modular instructional tools related to content, practice, or assessment. Depending upon the topic at hand, students can be encouraged to create learning objects for themselves and/or their peers.


Learning Objects in a web-enhanced classroom can increase learning engagement and student understanding. Learning objects can take the form of a video, an interactive learning module, or a photo. The main purpose of learning objects is to take a “meaty” learning standard and boil it down to specific knowledge and skills that can be taught in smaller units.

For example, according to the Common Core State Standards, in Grade 8, students should: Understand and apply the Pythagorean Theorem.

Explain a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem and its converse.
Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles in real-world and mathematical problems in two and three dimensions.
Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between two points in a coordinate system.

This is a “meaty” standard that requires unpacking. Once unpacked, one can see that students need to know and understand how to first explain a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. A learning object can help with that. Students can learn Pythagoras’ theorem using a professionally created learning object or a student created learning object. Once they understand the concepts behind the theorem, then they can be encouraged to apply the theorem to a relevant situation within their lives.

anigif_enhanced-5542-1442311388-2In a web-enhanced classroom, teachers would encourage their students to create learning objects using such tools as Explain Everything, Screencast-o-matic, or Doceri. With student created learning objects, students can now clarify their understanding at their learning pace and share their learning with others.  Thus, having students create learning objects authentically promotes personalized learning because the student’s voices are now added to the mix.


Goal Setting F.A.S.T.

One technique Instructional Designers use to focus on the goals of instruction is the functional analysis system technique, or F.A.S.T. technique. FAST is a simple chart that the Instructional Designer fills in, that starts with the action and ends with arriving at a goal for fulfilling that action. In other words, the FAST technique works backwards in order to help put a focus on the larger goal or goals at hand.

To implement this technique into lesson designs for web-enhanced classrooms, first start with the desired action and then work backwards by doing a functional analysis of that particular action. Asking how and why questions will help with the functional analysis. For instance, How does it function? Why does it function? The answers to those questions will help students derive at a goal for learning that particular course learning outcome.


Starting with the action will help students arrive at a final goal for learning.  For instance, when students are enrolled in a Mathematics course, first assist them in becoming familiar with the course learning outcomes for that particular mathematics course. Then, show the students how to convert those course learning outcomes into actionable goals.

Here is an example from Grade 6 mathematics CCSS Standards: Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems.

Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities. For example, “The ratio of wings to beaks in the bird house at the zoo was 2:1, because for every 2 wings there was 1 beak.” “For every vote candidate A received, candidate C received nearly three votes.”
Converting this standard into an actionable goal using the FAST technique would look like this:

The FAST technique is a foolproof way to incorporate student voice and choice in lesson design for web-enhanced classrooms because it allows the students to set goals from themselves within a framework of standards for learning. By teaching students to convert course learning outcomes into actionable goals, students automatically add their voice and choice to their learning and their goals for learning.

Where should teachers begin?

Over the last two months, I’ve been examining the difference between instructional-design theories and curriculum design theories. I learned that instructional-design theories are design-oriented in nature because they focus on the means to attain the given learning goals. They are probabilistic, which means that the prescribed method of instruction will increase the chances of attaining the learning goals byway of instructional conditions, desired outcomes, and the instructional components.  Instructional-design theories are founded on customization and diversity from the key markers of the Information Age.

In contrast, Curriculum-theory designs are description oriented in nature, which means that they focus on the results of any given learning event. They are also deterministic, which means that the attainment of the learning goals are assured with operant conditioning. Curriculum designs are founded on standardization and conformity from the key markers of the Industrial Age.

This inquiry has helped me to understand why I am mixing ideologies from both educational theories. Since curriculum-design theories limit a teachers ability to personalize learning for students, it is obvious that teachers have to make the shift. Hence, how do we shift from a curriculum-design theory mindset to an instructional-design theory mindset?


I started exploring an answer to that question using a Goal Analysis. Goal Analysis is one of the steps that instructional designers take when determining instructional needs. Typically, the goal analysis occurs during the analysis phase of A.D.D.I.E. Instead of using standards to commence instruction, teachers in web-enhanced classrooms would use the learners’ goals as the starting point for planning instruction. Robert Mager (1997) devised a process for analyzing goals:

  1. Write the goal.
  2. Identify the necessary behaviors learners would need in order to demonstrate achievement of this goal.
  3. Using the list of these behaviors, write a goal statement that describes what exactly the learner will be able to do.
  4. To ensure you have clarified the goal, look at the goal statement and ask: if the learner was able to achieve each performance behavior, would he or she have achieved the goal? If yes, then you have properly clarified the goal.

Therefore, by starting with the learner, instead of the standard, we can shift to an instructional-design theory mindset. So how would that look in a typical classroom? It would be unfair to apply the instructional-design theory mindset to an elementary web-enhanced classroom because it is not developmentally appropriate for that age group. As Mortimer Adler described in the Paideia Program, elementary age students require didactic instruction. However, a secondary web-enhanced classroom, is suitable for applying the instructional-design theory mindset because secondary students  are in the need of developing their intellectual skills.

Hence, to answer the question: Where should teachers begin, I say, begin with the learner.

  • What are the learners goals based on their current needs and interests?
  • What is the student’s ability in terms of achieving his or her goals?
  • What is the probability of the student achieving their goals based on their current level of performance?
  • What instructional design models should be employed that will increase the students probability of achieving his or her goals?
  • What are the constraints?
  • Is the goal aligned with the real-life goals that the students have?

Finally, we can contextualize the student’s learning goals with their grade-level standards within the design phase of A.D.D.I.E.


Adler, Mortimer J. (2011). The Paideia program: An educational syllabus. New York: Macmillan.

Mager, R. F. (2012). Goal analysis: How to clarify your goals so you can actually achieve them.