3 Questions to Start your Mass Customized Learning Journey

“This is not a program…you have to change your philosophy” perfectly encapsulates the difficulty some educators may experience with Mass Customized Learning. There are two facts we must remember about Mass Customized learning:

  • First, MCL is not a program but a journey. A journey toward restructuring the educational system.
  • Second, MCL is uncompromisingly learner centered. The ramifications of of these two facts require deep reflection. For example, if the learner is at the center of all we do in education, then how does that impact what we take for granted in education? An example that I use frequently is that of building a master schedule for high school or elementary school. Suddenly, the purpose changes from a process that is for adult convenience (a master schedule) to one that is truly learner centered. This is just one way that a radically learner centered approach significantly changes the structures and standard operating procedures of education.

There are three fundamental questions that must be grappled with when reflecting on the education system becoming radically learner centered:

· What is your belief about learning?

· What is your belief about teaching?

· What is the purpose of education?

How teacher answers these questions (within the context of what it means to be “uncompromisingly learner centered”) significantly impacts their foundational philosophy about education and their career. Are they simply a vessel for technically correct instruction delivered appropriately? Or, are teachers an integral part of designing learning experiences that stretch the intellectual development of their students? The question becomes, are teachers technocrats or professionals with deep knowledge of their students motivations and learning goals?

Teachers have become technocrats. There is a belief that if teachers are given the correct “tools” to use at the proper time within an appropriate context then they have succeeded in helping students learn. Schools of education, professional development directed at teachers, and teacher evaluation systems encourage the technocratic vision of a teacher’s job. This vision of teacher responsibility prevents teachers from reflecting on deeper questions of practice and purpose. After all, a teacher can say, “If I have this set of tools to use in this situation (and I employ these tools) then the responsibility now rests on the students to learn”. A technocratic-centric interpretation of the teaching profession is not sufficient in our current industrial age model of education and not compatible with Mass Customized Learning. Being technocratically proficient places the teacher at the center of the education process. Because the learning experience for the student is predicated on adult convenience and NOT on crafting learning experiences that are meaningful for the learner the system is teacher-centric. Letting their ego not dictate their student’s learning is the crux of the change in philosophy that is required by educators.

Adults in the system must let go of their ego. Learning is not about their knowledge of content or their use of the newest instructional strategy. Although both aspects are important for learning to occur, they are not the starting point for the learning experience. The starting point is the learner. How can a learning facilitator (teacher) craft a learning experience that will help a learner achieve? Transitioning away from a teacher-centric view of education requires a reset on the teachers philosophy of education and learning. Grappling with these questions is daunting for educators. What one discovers about themselves and their profession may be frightening. However, the simple truth is that for our profession to move forward and change for the benefit of learners, then these uncomfortable moments must exist.

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About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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