Personalization equals success
Kim McClelland
January 18, 2017

“Personalized learning” is one of the most-used buzzwords in K-12 education right now, and many thought leaders, administrators and educators alike question its definition and execution. If making something personal is to tailor something to an individual’s wants and/or needs, personalized learning should imply that students have the ability to tailor their education to their strengths, interests and goals.

However, this is not the case for many students. Many attend schools based on where they live, not on what they want to learn. Many schools focus on “college readiness,” but attending a four-year college isn’t every student’s goal. We need to create educational programs that allow students to pursue their personal goals -- whether it’s going straight to college, straight to a career or a combination of the two.

Choosing a school based on mission, not location

Rocky Mountain Digital Academy and Mountain View Virtual, the two schools Colorado Digital BOCES was authorized by the Colorado Department of Education to manage, have two very different missions.

RMDA encourages qualifying students to enter its concurrent enrollment program in order to earn credit toward their high school diploma and college degree simultaneously. MVV's extensive elective course catalog and career and technical education offerings appeal to students with STEM interests, as well as those who want to enter a highly skilled profession with an industry-recognized certification after high school graduation.

RMDA and MVV are able to accomplish these missions by using a unique school model. The model is a student-centered learning model that helps students develop 21st century skills -- something that is imperative for today’s workforce -- as well as learn autonomy and goal setting to prepare for the complexity of life and work environments. Under the learning model, each student creates a learning plan personalized to their strengths and weaknesses, as well as to their interests, with the help of a learning coach.

Because both schools are multi-district online schools, students from across the state enroll in our programs. When students need tutoring, guidance or any help, they can go to one of our more than 30 “drop-in” centers throughout the state, but students complete most of their courses online.

Technology enables flexibility and personalization

Online courses allow the students to work at their own pace while also helping them hone time management skills. Because students do not have to physically attend school every day, RMDA students can attend college courses on campus, and MVV students can pursue apprenticeships or other valuable experience -- all while completing their high school requirements online.

It also allows students to take classes that appeal to their interests and/or specific academic needs. RDMA students can take Advanced Placement or high-level courses to meet high school requirements and MVV students can take STEM-related electives or they can take online courses to prepare for industry-recognized certification exams. Many traditional schools would not have the capacity to do this. Recruiting teachers qualified to teach these courses is a challenge and a school will not consider adding a new course if there is low student interest, which could leave a student unable to take a course they need or want. Online courses allow us and our students to bypass this staffing issue.

In order to see more success in schools, we need to rethink school programming and help students find meaning in their education. By allowing students to choose their school AND their educational path based on their goals for the future, they can take ownership of their education and work toward an attainable and clear goal.

Kim McClelland the executive director of Colorado Digital BOCES in Colorado Springs, Colo. Colorado Digital BOCES’ two online multidistrict schools use online course content from Fuel Education.

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