Socol’s Tool Belt Theory

Sophisticated digital tools allow texts to be annotated, videos to be produced, interactive learning experiences created, all of which further enhance student learning. However, “The only way to allow students to assemble [an] essential toolbelt for information and communication is to throw open your classroom and let the world in” (Socol, n.d., para. 17). This is a powerful quote, as it is essential for teachers to not only stock their toolbelt but to help students stock theirs too. Socol (n.d.) goes on to say,

How will your students know which calendar works for them – the one on their phone, Google Calendar with SMS appointment texting, Microsoft Outlook, or any of a dozen paper systems unless you allow them to try them out? How will your students know whether they ‘get’ a novel better by listening to an audiobook, or reading it on paper, or using text-to-speech, if you don’t let them experience all repeatedly and help them decide? Will their choice be the same when they are reading history texts? Math texts? Again, how will they know? How will they know which is the best way for them to write, by hand (either on paper or on a tablet system), by keyboard (and which keyboard), or by voice, if they do not get to try out all the kinds of writing they need to do with all these tools?

They won’t know. And you – the school, the teacher, the education system – will have deprived them of these essential skills.

It matters for all students, of course, but- as always – if you are “rich, white, and normal” it matters a bit less. You will have fewer needs, your parents will buy you more supports, you will be surrounded in your daily life by sophisticated tool users. So not bringing Toolbelt Theory into your classroom just exacerbates inequity – yes, of course – as school does in most things.

After reading those paragraphs, I felt a sense of urgency to figure out how I will implement the Toolbelt theory into my practice. How will I equip students with “Tasks – Environments – Skills – Tools” (T.E.S.T.) that show them how they learn best (Socol, n.d.)?

Socol (2008) proposed the Toolbelt Theory. This theory is “based on the concept that students must learn to assemble their own readily available collection of life solutions. They must learn to choose and use these solutions appropriately, based on the task to be performed, the environment in which they find themselves, their skills and capabilities at that time, and the ever-changing universe of high and low-tech solutions and supports. After all, few of us have a toolbox with just one screwdriver or just the tools we were given when we were ten-years-old” (para 3).

So, the Toolbelt is designed to:
• Break the dependency cycle
• Develop a lifespan technology skills
• Reduce and limit limitations
• Empower student decision making
• Prepare students for life beyond school

Socol (2008) posited the following example to illustrate his TEST model. You need to know what you need to do (the specific task: cut 20 sheets of plywood or cut down a Christmas tree, find a book to buy or find a book to borrow). You need to know where you will be doing this (the specific environment: in a forest, in a workshop, in a town with a university library and four bookstores, in a place with neither). You need to know your own capabilities (your skillset: I am strong enough to cut down a tree with a hand saw, I am experienced enough that I can cut a straight line with a hand-held circular saw, I can walk to the bookstore, I know the Dewey Decimal System). And you need to know what is available to you to help you, and how to use those devices (your toolbelt: My neighbor has a chain saw, I can rent a table saw, a bus will get me to the bookstore, if I go online and reserve that library book it will be waiting for me at the counter).

Hence, the task is the container for the learning objectives and content. To fully engage learners, tasks should be centered around an interesting problem. “An interesting problem is one that’s never been solved in quite this way before. It’s not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines” (Godin, 2017). Ergo, the task will dictate what students learn and how they learn.

The environment is the location of the task. The more restrictive the environment, the less ubiquitous the task. In other words, if the task can only happen in a classroom, then learner access is restricted to the classroom. The more seamless the task, the more ubiquitous the learning. “The word seamless suggests that what was once believed to be separate, distinct parts (e.g., in-class and out-of-class, academic and non-academic; curricular and co-curricular, or on-campus and off-campus experiences) are now of one piece, bound together so as to appear whole or continuous. In seamless learning environments, students are encouraged to take advantage of learning resources that exist both inside and outside of the classroom …students are asked to use their life experiences to make meaning of material introduced in classes […]. (Wong & Looi, 2011, p. 2365).

Crystallized knowledge and mastered skills make up the learner’s skillset. Some learner’s skills are more developed than others, hence the need for a learner analysis in order to better understand learners and make necessary adjustments for their skillsets. Because of learner variance, it is necessary to have a repertoire of tools available to learners and any necessary training on how to use those tools in order to meet the demands of the task. “Choosing the right tool takes knowledge of yourself and the tools which are available. It takes practice in assessing the task and the environment. And in school, we don’t help students toward any of that. In school we prescribe methods and we require specific tools (the dreaded middle school planner, just as one particularly stupid example – the teacher-determined notebook style as another). In school, we tell students what they can and can’t do and we get very nervous when they really try to analyze their environment” (Socol, 2008).

In sum, “we are all tool users” and helping learners customize their toolbelts for a more complete process and acquisition of learning that leads toward individual fulfillment is paramount to the role of an instructional designer and learning experience designer. “Toolbelt Theory” suggests that we must teach our students how to analyze tasks, the task-completion environment, their own skills and capabilities, an appropriate range of available tools… and let them begin to make their own decisions” (Socol, 2008).

Socol provided a list of questions to consider for applying the TEST model to instructional design and learning experience design:

Task
1. What needs to be done? (when possible, break the task down into component parts)

Environment
1. Where must this be done (or is typically done)?
2. Under what time constraints?
3. What is the standard method of task completion?
4. How does the person interact with this environment?
5. Who is the task being done for? (specifics of teacher, employer, other expectations)

Skills
1. What specific strengths does the person bring to this task?
2. What specific weaknesses interfere with that person’s ability to complete the task?
3. What is that person’s “tool acquisition aptitude” and what tools are they currently comfortable with?

Tools
1. What tool best “bridges the gap” between the current skill set and what is needed for task completion?
2. If the tool is not already “in the toolbox” (the person has been successfully trained in its use), how does the environmental timeline match with the needed learning curve?
3. If it is not possible to use the “best tool” within this environment what is the “back-up tool”? How do we pre-train so the best tool can be used the next time?

Reference:

Godin, S. (2017). Interesting problems. Retrieved November 8, 2019, from https://seths.blog/2017/02/interesting-problems/

International University of Lake Constance (n.d.). Seamless Learning. Retrieved November 08, 2019, from https://seamless-learning.eu/en/seamless-learning/seamless-learning/

Socol, I. D. (March 2008). Toolbelt Theory for Everyone. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/05/toolbelt-theory-for-everyone.html

Socol, I.D. (May 2008). A Toolbelt for a Lifetime. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2008/03/csun-2008a-toolbelt-for-lifetime.html

Socol, I. D. (n.d.). Toolbelt Theory. Retrieved from October 23, 2018, from https://sites.google.com/site/iradavidsocol/home/toolbelt-theory

Wong, L. H., & Looi, C. K. (2011). What seams do we remove in mobile-assisted seamless learning? A critical review of the literature. Computers & Education, 57(4), 2364-2381.

Beta-testing Designs with End-Users

Today, learners demand more customization, voice, and practicality from their learning environments (Kalaitzidis, Litts, & Halverson, 2017). Hence, instructional designers will have to upgrade learning environments in order to meet the demand of today’s learners. As discussed in an earlier post, content creation and calibration cannot be done in a silo. Content that is customized, incorporates the students’ voice, and is practical for students, has to be co-designed with students. Hence, content that is co-designed with learners is the ultimate form of personalized learning.  

Flow theory

Why should instructional designers include learners in the content creation process? First, by including learners in creating content, the learners themselves intrinsically set learning goals for attainment. In other words, when instructional designers introduce learners to the instructional objectives and learning outcomes for the units and lessons, the learners then can determine their own learning because they have been empowered by the instructional designer to customize and practicalize the content and they have been allowed to add their voices to the content creation and learning process.

Second, by including learners in the creation process, a learning flow that produces deep engagement and learner motivation can be established. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) argued that “clear goals, individual control, tasks that the individual is capable of successfully completing, and skills that must be learned” is what establishes a flow for deep learning and engagement. When learners co-create content, tasks are designed that are not too challenging or too easy. Students co-design tasks with teachers that align with their personal interests, thus placing them in a flow channel of learning.

Third, learner voice, choice, and agency are all embedded in co-designed instructional design models, as these types of models highly value empowering learners to make decisions about ends, priorities, and means (Reigeluth, Myers, & Lee, 2017). When students are empowered, then they are more engaged and thereby more capable of attaining their learning goals and the instructor’s teaching objective. 

Alpha vs. Beta testing

In many cases, after instructional designers have created their content without student input, they typically test the content in the alpha stage through the student view. For instance, instructional designers might make sure that the links work, that the dates of content release are correct, and that the aesthetics of the content is appealing. If the content passes the instructional designer’s alpha test, then it is delivered to the student without any trial run. Some would argue that this is a travesty, as students are being held accountable for content that was not given a trial run by the learners. Cars are test-driven, wine is taste-tested, and movies have trailers, all for the sake of testing the quality or operation of the product. Why then are students not given an opportunity to give their content a trail run?

Why content should be beta-tested with students

When instructional designers allow students to co-design and beta test the content, students are able to find bugs and fix them, improve content features, and optimize the distribution of learning, teaching, and assessing (Kalaitzidis, Litts, & Halverson, 2017). “In software development, the beta phase is an accepted, normal, predictable stage of product development” (Gonzalez, 2018). This is not the case in traditional instructional design. Gonzalez (2014) mentioned that “beta is a lifelong commitment to continuous …growth” (para. 4). Hence, shouldn’t instructional designers adopt beta-testing as a form of continuous professional growth? 

After doing some research on this topic, I created an instrument that not only supports mega-batching content creation but beta testing content with learners. For the instrument, click here. I also created a content rubric checklist for students that can be used for beta-testing content. This checklist is based on UC Berkley’s checklist. In sum, if instructional designers truly want to personalize learning for students, then they will not only have to incorporate the learners’ voice, choice, and agency, they will also have to incorporate co-designs that are beta-tested with end-users.

Reference:
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper [and] Row.

Gonzalez, J. (2014). Teaching in Beta: What We Can Learn from Software Developers Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/beta-teaching/ on October 14th, 2018

Reigeluth, C.M., Myers, R. D., Lee, D. (2017). The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education in Reigeluth, C. M., In Beatty, B. J., & In Myers, R. D. Instructional-design theories and models: Volume IV.

Kalaitzidis, T.J., Litts, B., and Rosenfeld Halverson, E. (2017).  Designing Collaborative Production of Digital Media in Reigeluth, C. M., In Beatty, B. J., & In Myers, R. D. Instructional-design theories and models: Volume IV.

 

Exploring Student Interests for Personalized Learning

Most of what I am reading has defined personalized learning as learning that incorporates student needs, student interests, and student preferences. For many, there is no confusion around these variables, however, I became interested in student interests because I recently encountered a student who did not know what he was interested in, as he was not well read and he focused much of his time on playing video games. This intrigued me, as I thought about ways teachers could help students cultivate interests when students have limited interests in sanctioned subject matter.

I started researching this matter in the early part of the academic year and I came across a chapter in volume two of Instructional-design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, which linked student interests to motivation. “Cultivating interests and the desire to cultivate interests, based on the joy or utility they provide” is directly linked to motivational development (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999, p. 494). Martin and Reigeluth (1999) further noted that motivational development is linked to Affective Education. They defined Affective Education as education for personal-social development, feelings, emotions, morals, and ethics. What is particularly important about Affective Education is the discovery that it may actually dominate cognitive learning, and “serve as the mind’s primary architect” (Martin & Reigeluth, 1999, p. 488). So what does this have to do with cultivating student interests? Since student interests are linked to self-motivation, and motivational development is linked to the affective domain, then I believe that educators are obligated to consider incorporating objectives from the affective domain for students with limited interests in sanctioned content matter.

Affective Objectives

Martin and Reigeluth (1999) argued that, “attitudes are the crux of all the affective dimensions of development. An attitude can be defined as a state of readiness or as a learned predisposition to behave in a consistent way. It is made up of cognitive, affective, and behavioral elements” (p. 496). Hence, teachers can help cultivate student interests byway of attitude training. Attitude training involves focusing on the non-cognitive and non-technical skills, also known as soft skills.

  • Communication skills
  • Creativity
  • Teamwork capability
  • Negotiating skills
  • Self-management
  • Time management
  • Conflict management
  • Cultural awareness
  • Responsibility
  • Etiquette and good manners
  • Courtesy
  • Self-esteem
  • Sociability
  • Integrity / Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Work ethic

When students have soft skills, then they have the attitude necessary for a learning predisposition that will make them available for developing motivation and interests in sanctioned subjects. So how best can attitude training be implemented in the classroom? And how does it link to personalized learning? The answer to both of these questions is Project-based Learning (PBL). “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” (BIE, 2018). Below is a list of steps for getting started with PBL.

  1. Teacher uses standards to define the learning
  2. Teacher plans an entry event into the project
  3. Students are presented with a driving question
  4. Students generate their need to knows based on the driving question
  5. Teacher helps students to map out the project and create partnerships with stakeholders
  6. Instruction is planned based on student needs
  7. Project is carried out and evaluated

In sum, PBL is the vehicle for ushering in personalized learning and incorporating the much neglected affective domain of learning. I would also argue that PBL can recapture those students who are academically dormant and uninterested in sanctioned learning.

Reference:

Buck Institute for Education (2018). What is Project Based Learning retrieved from https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl October 12, 2018.

Martin, B.L. and Reigeluth, C.M. (1999). Affective Education and the Affective Domain: Implications for Instructional-Design Theories and Models in Reigeluth, C. M. (2012). Instructional-design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, Volume II. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Digital Media Design and Blended Learning

Blended learning can be defined as a formal education program in which a student learns partly online and partly face-to-face. Blended learning is also an exciting way to personalize learning for students however, creating and calibrating assignments for different blended learning models can be daunting.  Blended learning has many models (i.e., station rotation, lab rotation, individual rotation, flipped classroom, flex, a la carte, or enriched virtual) and assignment/task creation for each model depends upon the purpose of the learning task and the learning path that the students are on. 

Specific blended learning models can be used to fit the differentiated need of learners based upon the instructional learning goal. Using Coil’s (2010) Horizontal and Vertical Differentiation Model, learning experiences can be tailored for specific students according to their specific learning needs. The table below shows how blended learning can be meshed with Coil’s (2010) Horizontal and Vertical Differentiation Model in order to consider how to design and calibrate assignments and tasks.

Much of the current content for assignments and tasks being used for the various blended learning models are pre-packaged by publishers, hence, transferring those materials to a district’s online learning management system as well as converting materials into digital media can be quite time consuming and overwhelming. Hence, when creating assignments for the different blended learning models, the standards of learning, the instructional procedures and the students’ learning stages and learning processes are essential to the creation and calibration of content design and digital media design.

Creation and calibration of assignments and tasks considers whether one should use analog or digital tools within the design while examining best practices for streamlining online assignments with other activities. If digital tools are to be used, then students can help co-design the digital media that will be used to enhance their learning. The following is a list of questions that teachers can use when creating digital media content:

  1. In order for this assignment/task to work, what gaps need to be filled with other tools/strategies?
  2. How will this assignment/task evolve?
  3. Does the assignment/task as intrinsic value for students?
  4. How can learning be distributed to students by students using digital tools?
  5. How will the learning be assessed?
  6. Can assessments be organically built into the assignments or tasks?
  7. How will the assessment be used to enhance student learning?

In sum, Kalaitzidis, Litts, and Rosenfeld Halverson, stated that “Instruction and the design of it should not be rigid, top-down activities. As learners grow, create, and demand new resources, the design of instruction must adapt to meet their needs. Instructors should elicit ideas for these refinements from learners themselves” (p.177). This suggests that instructors should keep assignments and tasks flexible and dynamic.

References:

Coil, C. (2010). Teaching tools for the 21st century. United States: Pieces of Learning.

Kalaitzidis, T.J., Litts, B., and Rosenfeld Halverson, E. Designing Collaborative Production of Digital Media in Reigeluth, C. M., In Beatty, B. J., & In Myers, R. D. (2017). Instructional-design theories and models: Volume IV.

Content Creation and Calibration

Let’s be honest, it is hard to truly personalize learning when there are established standards for learning. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing against standards for learning, I’m simply trying to reconcile the ideas behind the two approaches to distributing and measuring learning. I call this ideological dissonance, the instructional dichotomy. The table below illustrates my ideas on the difference between standardized learning and personalized learning:

Table: The Instructional Dichotomy

Learners vs. Students

Why am I interested in this topic? To answer this question, I must first start with a quote.

“If you consider anyone who is learning at any age and anywhere a “learner,” then you give the responsibility for the learning to the learner. When the institution or anyone who is teaching students are accountable for the learning — not the learners — the responsibility falls on the teachers for what “students” learn. Doesn’t this seem backwards? Where is the incentive and motivation to learn if all the responsibility is on the teacher? If you change the thinking behind the terms, then using the term “learners” makes more sense” (Bray & McClaskey, 2014). 

Bray and McClaskey’s (2014) quote caused me to examine the notion of personalized learning in a standardized classroom.  How can teachers possibly shift the onus of learning from the institution to the learner?  And how can teachers employ individualized instructional procedures that are in sync with each students’ learning stage and learning process? There is no straight answer for this. Nonetheless, Kalaitzidis, Litts, and Rosenfeld Halverson (2017), asserted that today’s communities of learners “thrive upon innovation in tools, meanings, and ways-of-knowing, and favor distributed, emergent, and egalitarian methods for achieving goals” (p. 179). Hence, to authentically personalize learning in a standardized classroom, teachers will have to adopt “design identities” and learn to distribute learning, teaching, and assessment across the entire class community (pp.195-197).  This will require ontological and paradigmatic shifts towards learner-centered instructional designs (Kalaitzidis, Litts, and Rosenfeld Halverson, 2017, p. 182).

Action steps for personalizing learning in a standardized classroom

Developing “design identities” will take time to cultivate and implement in our schools. Nonetheless, I have created some action steps that I believe teachers can use to help address the instructional dichotomy of personalizing learning in a standardized educational field. Let’s begin by stating, true personalized learning starts with the student and his or her learning goal. However, to remain in compliance with the State’s required standards, I suggest starting with the standard and help students contextualize their learning goals within the required State’s standards. The student’s learning goals can be converted into competencies that align with the State’s standards. Below lists the remaining steps in my action plan:

  1. Identify Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes – aligned with the standards and converted into “I Can” statements
  2. Identify Student Learning Goals and Student Learning Goal Attainment – aligned with the learners
  3. Identify Instructional Methods and Procedures: How will the learning objectives be achieved? (e.g., direct teaching, games, simulations, lab, multimedia, discussions, reading, field trip, drills, demonstration, brainstorming, etc.) – aligned with the standards
  4. Identify Learning Stage: What learning stage is the student in? (e.g. acquisition, fluency (reinforcement), generalization (maintenance), adaptation (experiential)) – aligned with the learners 
  5. Identify Learning Process – Doing something (Concrete Experimentation), Thinking about it (Reflection), Doing some research, Talking with others and applying what we already know to the situation (Abstract Conceptualization), Doing something new or doing the same thing in a more sophisticated way based on our learning (Active Experimentation) David Kolb – aligned with learners
  6. Teacher provides feedback to student – Feed-up, Feedback, Feed-forward; (Feed-up – clarify the learning objectives; Feedback – Respond to Student Work; Feed-forward – Modify instruction for future lessons). – aligned with the standards
  7. Student provides feedback to teacher – Feedback – aligned with the learners

In sum, I still believe that it is hard to truly personalize learning for students when there are established standards for learning. Nonetheless, to help address this instructional dichotomy, I suggest that we continue to start with state standards and help students contextualize their learning goals within those standards.

References:

Bray, B., & McClaskey, K. (2014, March ). Building Personalized Learning Environments. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://www.advanc-ed.org/source/building-personalized-learning-environments

Fisher, D; Frey, N. (2009). Feed Up, Back, Forward. Educational Leadership. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov09/vol67/num03/Feed-Up,-Back,-Forward.aspx

Kalaitzidis, T.J., Litts, B., and Rosenfeld Halverson, E. Designing Collaborative Production of Digital Media in Reigeluth, C. M., In Beatty, B. J., & In Myers, R. D. (2017). Instructional-design theories and models: Volume IV.

Including the Family in “Personalized Learning”

Personalized learning will mean something different for the parents of our students than for our students and our administrators and our teacher colleagues. As I continue to explore the topic of personalized learning, I haven’t seen a lot of information on personalized learning that includes families. For the most part, the crux of the conversation on personalized learning has been centered around teaching and learning. This obviously is important, however, where do the families of our students fit in within this educational shift?

Most districts and schools us the definition from The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) National Education Technology Plan (2010). Here is how they have defined personalized learning:

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).

Rickabaugh (2016) submitted that the USDOE’s definition missed a few key elements linked to personalized learning. He stated, “the USDOE’s definition stops short of recognizing the powerful role students must be allowed to play in setting learning goals, planning their learning paths, tracking their progress, and demonstrating their learning as partners and co-designers alongside educators”(p. 5). I agree with Rickabaugh’s assessment of the USDOE’s definition and I’d like to add to his list of key elements that there is a powerful role that families too, must be allowed to play other than the traditional role that they have been playing.

Rickabaugh and his colleagues illustrated the key elements of personalized learning in the form of a honeycomb (Institute for Personalized Learning, 2015). One of the key elements within that honeycomb, is family engagement. Rickabaugh submitted that, “families can play the traditional roles of providing support for learning at home, but they can now also review their children’s learning goals and activities, track their progress, and even serve as an audience for student demonstrations and performances” (p. 49).

But isn’t there more to family engagement than reviewing their children’s learning goals and activities, tracking their progress, and serving as an audience for student demonstrations and performances? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop his or her voice and his or her choice within the learning path? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop agency? Recognizing that each family is different and that families have the right to raise their children in a way that they see fit, it is important for educators to understand how families can impact student voice, choice, and agency within a personalized learning environment. Might I add that some students may have preferences and interests that are contrary to the culture of their family. And some students are not able to articulate their learning preferences, learning needs, and learning interests. So, the next best source for teachers who wish to implement personalized learning, is parents.

What tools can educators provide parents to help them support their child’s learning goals? What tools can educators provide parents to help them scaffold their child’s learning preferences and interests that are in line with the culture of the family? To answer these questions, educators can use the learner’s analysis to discuss with parents a prescribed learning path for their child that was co-designed with their child. During a parent teacher conference, teachers can gather insights from parents and strategies that will help support their child’s educational development. What is more, teachers and administrators will have to make it clear to parents that the role of the teacher within a personalized learning environment is shifting to a true facilitator of learning. Hence, parents will have to be even more present in their child’s education since the shift towards personalized learning promotes learner independence and self-regulation.

In sum, our knowledge about personalized learning is still evolving, thus the empty cells within the honeycomb model of personalized learning (Rickabaugh, 2016). As we are learning more about personalize learning, we should also study the influence of family engagement on the learners’ voice, choice, and agency.

References:
The Institute for Personalized Learning (2015). Our Model.Retrieved September 3, 2018, from http://institute4pl.org/index.php/our-model/
Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the power of personalized learning: A roadmap for school leaders.
U.S. Department of Education. (2010). National education technology plan. Washington, DC: Author.

Paideia Proposal 2.0

To this day, I’m still fascinated with Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal. I first heard about it in 2002 in a Graduate course at American University. I admired Adler at the time for his work as an Educational Essentialist and advocate for critical thinking. His model, the Paideia Curricular Framework encompassed both pedagogy and heutagogy concomitantly. His model worked well for his time, however, if updated with the citizenship component from the 5Cs for 21st century education (fig. 1 below), I’m sure that it can be fit for teaching and learning of today.

In an earlier post, Finding the sweet spot in personalized learning, I wrote about the Paideia Proposal as an additional scaffold for personalized learning. What I noticed is that Adler’s Column 1 is directly linked to pedagogy while Column 2 and Column 3 is linked to heutagogy. Pedagogy is defined as a learning and teaching approach that is primarily reserved for learners that are new to concepts, procedures, and topical knowledge. Heutagogy, on the other hand, is defined as “a learning and teaching  approach that is primarily self-directed or self-determined” (retrieved from https://www.educatorstechnology.com/). Table 1 below lists the attributes of pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. For the purpose of this post, I will only be focusing on pedagogy and heutagogy.

Adler’s Paideia Proposal is perfect for personalized learning because the 5Cs are natural by-products of his framework (Table 2 below). What I would like to add to his curricular framework is the notion of student lead instruction rather than the teacher led lectures and an over-reliance on one textbook. In other words, how can students take more onus of the features within column 1 vis-a-vis digital learning tools? I propose that blended learning could be the answer to this question. By incorporating online learning, teachers are more free to facilitate the acquisition of organized knowledge within their classroom and function as a learning coach rather than an absolutist.

What about columns 2 and 3? How can students take more onus of the features within those columns? Column 2 looks very much like an apprenticeship while column 3 looks like inquiry. I propose that project-based learning (PBL) or problem-based learning (PBL) could be the answer to this question. However, to make authentic learning experiences connect with each of the 5Cs, I suggest that the projects or problems that are embedded within the learning experiences be related to citizenship, an important C from the 5Cs that is often neglected. In other words, what projects or problems could be embedded into a learning experience that would benefit the community in which the student is a citizen of? What resources and persons could students have access to that would further develop the student’s intellectual skills while enlarging their understanding of ideas and values?

All and all, Adler’s Paideia proposal is still relevant and necessary for the current teaching and learning course within curricular model theories. Furthermore, by using digital tools and PBL that incorporates community engagement and civic responsibility, Adler’s Paideia Curricular Framework could be upgraded to a 2.0.

Genius Hour: The Mother of Personalized Learning

The concept of “Genius Hour” was new to me up until I realized that Genius Hour is what my former school used to call the “Multiple Intelligences” or M.I. clubs. Back in the day, once a month, we carved out an hour for all of the students to go to an M.I. Club of their choice. The year was 1998, and once my principal made the announcement, the students would scramble in the halls to get to their cooking club, printing club, bird watching club, football club, etc., etc. What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that with M.I. Clubs, our school was genuinely interested in what students were interested in. We took a break from teaching the curriculum and taught what students actually wanted to know more about.

 

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time while in school (retrieved from https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/). You will recall, in an earlier post, that I wrote about encouraging students to follow their desires rather than their passions. On the contrary, by definition, Genius Hour encourages students to explore their passions. Still, I’d like to amend this definition and state that Genius Hour allows students to explore and discover pockets of passions which can be bundled into long-term learning desires.

According to TeachThought, Genius Hour is:

  1. Student-centered
  2. Messy
  3. Emphasizes inquiry and research
  4. Authentic
  5. New challenges (i.e., it creates new problems to solve in your classroom)
  6. Inherently personalized
  7. Inherently creative
  8. Purpose-driven
  9. Maker-friendly
  10. Often collaborative and social

Genius Hour is not:

  1. Standards-based
  2. Data-driven
  3. “Free time” for students
  4. Teacher-centered
  5. Without any rules or expectations
  6. Less rigorous (compared to other approaches to learning)
  7. Structure-free
  8. Requires whiz-bang technology
  9. Unfit for schools and other formal learning environments
  10. Requires less planning and less teacher “effort”

After reflecting on the principles behind Genius Hour, I concluded that Genius Hour is the mother of Personalized Learning because during Genius Hour, students explore their interests and begin to understand themselves as learners and their learning preferences. During the structured inquiry, students have an opportunity to assess their knowledge gaps and ascertain their learning needs. Moreover, Genius Hour promotes project management, iterative thinking, systems thinking, exploration, critical thinking, and valuing lessons acquired from failures.

For instructional designers, Genius Hour is yet another strategy that can be utilized within any instructional systems design models. For instance, instructional designers for online learning can use Genius Hour to personalize learning based on learner analyses. Learners are taking courses for a reason, hence, doing a thorough learner analysis will allow the instructional designer to prescribe opportunities for learners to specialize in their interests.

The following is an example from my work. I’m currently working with the Borg’s Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design Model.  See figure below:

Within this instructional design model, I could easily prescribe Genius Hour to occur within the apprenticeship phase of Borg’s model. Borg defined the apprenticeship phase “as a delivery method for experiential learning” (p.81). Hence, during this portion of the model, I could prescribe learning tasks that are structured around the principles of Genius Hour using a  framework that I developed based on Michalko’s ThinkerToys.

Borg defined an apprentice as “someone who learns from a skilled practitioner through shared experience” (p. 82).  Hence, the instructor is the skilled practitioner that will create a shared Genius Hour experience that can be individually personalized. In my framework, I propose that Genius Hour start with Mind-pumping. Mind-pumping fills the minds of learners with informed ideas, thus helping them to “act like an idea person” (Michalko, 2014). The following strategies will help learners fill their minds with ideas and capture those ideas before they dissipate.

  • Keep an idea log
  • Set idea quotas
  • Paying close attention to what happens around you daily
  • Capture ideas by writing them down

The next step I prescribe is to center the learner’s interests or challenges within a specific goal. Hence, learners can use the following strategies to highlight his or her  ideas that will help to attain the goal.

  • In what ways might I…
  • What are the key words within my challenge or interests
  • The five Whys
  • Squeeze challenges or ideas with restraints

Now, the meaty part of Genius Hour, the Creation Framework portion taken from Michalko’s ThinkerToys.  According to Michalko, “Thinkertoys reflect linear and intuitive thinking, both of which are necessary for optimum creativity. The basic difference between the two is that the linear Thinkertoys structure existing information while the intuitive toys generate new information using insight, imagination, and intuition.

Finally, design thinking can be employed once the creation of a solid idea is evident. Steps in design thinking include:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

In sum, Genius Hour is the mother of personalized learning because learners embark upon a learning path of their choice within the context of the course. Learner voice is very evident and their preferences are made known throughout the inquiry. Moreover, learners develop agency when they perceive their ideas as valid.  If instructors want to enhance learner retention and course completion, then Genius Hour is perhaps one way to deeply engage learners and provide support for their learning needs, preferences, and interests.

Reference:
Borg, S. (2017). Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design for Adult Leadership Development within the Swaziland Leadership Academy. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED582698 on August 26, 2018.

Michalko, M. (2014). Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques. Berkeley: Ten speed press.

Passion versus Desire

“Follow your passion”, they say! “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel). I’ve heard sayings like these, amongst others, coming of age in Small Town, Maryland.

It wasn’t that long ago when I went to a teacher in-service training where the speaker told the crowd to have students create a passion notebook. Students were to use their passion notebooks to help them capture the ideas that they were passionate about, and the students were to write about their ideas during the writing block. I bought into this teaching strategy, because it was a novel solution to the writing woes of my students for that time (circa 2005). Fast forward twelve years, I’ve learned that passion is based on emotions and emotions change with the weather.

Merriam – Dictionary defined passion as a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept. Other dictionaries have defined passion as any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.

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On the other hand, Merriam – Dictionary defined desire as a “conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment“. Other dictionaries have defined desire as, “to wish or long for; crave; want.” According to those definitions, there is a huge difference between passion and desire. And based on one of my earlier posts, it isn’t passion that leads to renewable learning

I believe that passions are short-term and may or may not remain with the learner until they are fulfilled. Whereas  desires are long-term and remain with the learner until they are attained. Desire brings about transformation while passion brings about shifts. Acting much like a fad, passions come and go, while desires form internal standards that are followed until the craving has been satiated.

Instead of telling students to follow their passion, I now tell students to follow their desire, because passion is based on emotions. Asking students to follow their passion will only lead to shallow learning. Thus students’ interests, preferences, and needs will be based on shallow curiosities. However, desire is based on the joy of attaining the wish or craving. Hence, asking students to identify their learning desires will lead to deeper learning. Desire is linked to an intrinsic goal or deep hunger that is not satisfied until the goal is attained. Ergo, I believe that learning can only be truly personalized when student’s learning desires are factored into the equation.

Renewable Learning

When the last  tissue is used, one does not expect that the tissues within the box will renew themselves. Instead, the tissues and the box have to be replaced. Curriculum Theory Models are like an empty tissue box because they don’t generate renewable learning experiences.  The focus of Curriculum Theory Models is on meeting standards, teaching methods, maintaining a learning pace within a finite amount of time, and assessing cognitive behaviors.

Linear pacing guides and standardized assessments that seek predetermined answers leave little to no room for enrichment and extensions of learning within Curriculum Theory Models. As stated in an earlier post, enrichment and extensions of learning aligns with the student’s interest, student’s desired knowledge, and the student’s preferences, thus enabling personalized learning. It is my opinion that renewable learning occurs when learning is personalized for each learner.

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Instructional Design Models use learner centered specifications that meet desired competencies and proficiencies for learners.  Unlike the disposable learning of Curriculum Theory Models, Instructional Design Models incorporate enrichment and extensions of learning based on the learner’s analysis, thus creating renewable and personalized learning experiences. Using the tissue box analogy from earlier, I liken instructional design models to a handkerchief, which is more robust than a tissue, and it serves more purposes than for just wiping the nose.

For starts, in Instructional Design Models, the design of learning is centered around the learners’ Zone of Desirability. The Zone of Desirability is defined as the gaps between the learner’s current knowledge state and his or her desire to know. This gap becomes an irritant to the learner, and creates a strong craving for information that could potentially fill the knowledge gaps. In some cases, the information received may not be correct, thus forming misconceptions for the learner.  Nonetheless, the learner satisfies his or her desire to know by seeking information from self-designed learning experiences that can possibly fill the knowledge disparities, thereby creating new knowledge for the learner. The figure below illustrates the process of cognitive behaviors within the learners’ Zone of Desirability.

Zone of Desirability

Many learning institutions are trying to make a shift to personalized learning without considering Instructional Design Models. Fitting personalized learning into Curriculum Theory Models is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.  This is because Curriculum Theory Models start with a standard rather than with the student’s Zone of Desirability.  As mentioned earlier, it is the Zone of Desirability that promotes renewable learning. The figure below illustrates the linear process of Curriculum Theory Models.

In addition to Instructional Design Models, the theory of personalized learning also makes learning renewable because it promotes student identity, student agency, and student “productive” power. Moje and Lewis (2007) defined productive power as  power that “is produced and enacted in and through discourses, relationships, activities, spaces, and times by [students] as they compete for access to and control of resources, tools, and identities” (p. 5).

Student power is “a complicated and challenging construct, simply because the working of power in [student’s] learning lives is often neglected or is relegated to a position of an outside agent (the teacher) acting upon the subject (the student)” (Moje, 2007). However, personalized learning is a person-centered learning theory that allows students to negotiate relationships, discourses, and activities in order to effectively share control of resources and tools. Thus personalized learning supports the students’ right to exercise their “productive power” within the classroom.

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In sum, Instructional Design Models are more equipped to usher in personalized learning than Curriculum Theory Models simply because Instructional Design Models capitalize on the learners Zone of Desirability and the productive power of learners. If student “productive power”, voice, choice, and agency are factored into the learning design, then learning will always remain renewable.

Reference:
Moje, E. B., & Lewis, C. (2007). Examining opportunities to learn literacy: The role of critical sociocultural literacy research. In. C. J. Lewis, P. Enciso, & E. B. Moje (Eds.), Reframing sociocultural research on literacy: Identity, agency, and power. (pp. 15-48). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.