Personalized Learning: Fake and Real Choices

James A. Bellanca

Don’t doubt it. Ballyhooed Personalized Learning via computer assist programs kills student agency. Choice and voice offered by programmed learning machines are fake options.  Hidden algorithms deciding what questions a student will see and single answers picked from four, often by guess, is not agency.


Three Steps to Real Agency


Real agency best readies today’s students for the job world they will face after schooling. With MindQuest21, the real agency begins with student-made personalized learning plans. These teacher-guided, student-made plans ensure students develop skill sets which empower kids to decide what, how, when and where they will choose to learn. They don’t need a machine algorithm thinking for them with false choices.


  1. Setting Goals: When students are readied to set their own learning goals, they initiate their own unique personal learning process. When teachers help the student identify “what I need to know” with MindQuest21’s open-choice templates, they encourage students to transform their own ideas into personal goals they want to achieve. Knowing how to set one’s own learning goals is the first step in real choice-making.


  1. Planning action: With a challenging end in mind, a skill-goal which students see as possible, MindQsuest21 prepares teachers to have students choose the tools–the “how I will do this” methods–that best suit individual learning styles. Today’s tech-savvy kids are ready to learn more effectively with the multitude of digital tools, including CAI, which will expand and deepen the real choices involving what and how they learn.


  1. Self-Assessing: When feedback from peers, a teacher, and other adults is combined with a student’s own experience and a set of guiding criteria, a student can take the last step toward saying “’I’. ‘me”, “myself’ am responsible for deciding what, how fast, and how to carry out my learning goals. Now let me see what to do next.” With MindQuest21, teachers trade in their teacher-decides grading rubrics for student-centered guiding rubrics. With the trade, the locus of learning control shifts to the student.


30 Minutes a Week


From Pre-K to high school graduation, MindQuest21 helps students’ minutes per week to stop and think about their learning and make sound choices for improving what happens.  In less than 15 minutes a week using a common MindQuest21 template, students can increase competency ranging from reading and math skills to higher-order thinking, socio-emotional or digital skills identified as most important by the most recent McKinsey future employment report. (1)


Teacher Time


If not standing up in front of the class lecturing students what to learn, what does a teacher do?  She puts on a student agency hat.  With this, she moves to students’ sides, observes, asks questions, encourages choices, and gives warm, constructive feedback. Her focus: the goal setting, planning and self-assessing steps guided by their MindQuest21 personalized learning templates


(1) McKinsey Global Institute. Future of Work in America. 2019


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