From birth to school age, learning is already personalized for preschool children. Especially in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As young children grow and develop, they explore their environments and develop natural interests for learning. They acquire “a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, [and] of speaking…” (Malaguzzi, 2012). Then, as illustrated in the poem, No Way, The Hundred is There, the school and the culture kills ninety-nine. The school and the culture “tell the child to think without hands, to do without head, to listen and not speak, to understand without joy…” (Malaguzzi, 2012). The school and the culture help to force students to abandon the natural learning process and their natural learning interests, thus complying with contrived learning topics which may or may not feel relevant.
I liken the theory of personalized learning to instructional design models since instructional design models place students at the center of the design process. Students are encouraged to set goals and to participate in the design of their learning pathways. As preschool children design their own learning byway of following their desired interests, instructional design models also allow students to acknowledge and recognize their learning interests, learning preferences, and learning needs by way of their natural learning desires. This promotes student voice, student choice, and student agency. Table 1 below compares curricular design models with instructional design models. I included this table because it supports my claim that the theory of personalized learning is strongly related to principles of instructional design.
My experience in Reggio Emilia, Italy has taught me a lot. For starts, expert pedagogists present reality, explore reality, and turn facts into conjecture for their young students daily, in order to increase critical and creative thinking. Expert pedagogists also reinforce the young child’s sense of the possible using their Zones of Desirability. Zones of Desirability is defined as the gaps between the young child’s knowledge and his or her desire to know. This gap becomes an irritant to the young child, creating a strong urge to fill his or her knowledge gaps with missing knowledge. As a result, the child seeks information and self designs learning experiences that can possibly fill those knowledge gaps thereby creating new knowledge. Moreover, Zones of Desirability limits knowledge fragmentation within the young child and is a part of the knowledge building processes and the learning processes that the child gains. Figure 1 below, shows the flow of knowledge within the Zones of Desirability.
With the student being at the center of instructional design models, one can imagine that Zones of Desirability are embedded within instructional systems design. As the student proceeds to learn what he or she desires to learn (based on learner preferences and interests), the instructional designer personalizes the learning experience for students by default. Hence, what do instructional design models and Early Childhood Programs in Reggio Emilia, Italy have in Common? They both cultivate the curiosity and imagination of learners, and they both use instructional design practices that lead to the satiation of learner curiosity, desires, and goals.
Edwards, C. P., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. E. (2012). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.