Recently, I was privileged to hear Richard Culatta from the US Department of Education Office of Educational Technology speak about Personalized Learning at the K12 Educational Congress.  What was so powerful about Mr. Culatta’s presentation was his laser-focus on the critical need for diagnosing, teaching and assessing students through personalized strategies and methods.  Plenty of research points to this as the way to go, and students stagnate in a one-size-fits-all model of education.

Yet, we still struggle with how to make this approach work.  Obviously, there are technology tools making this easier and some exciting new tech pieces coming down the pike. However, I have to ask – what happens to the learning after you personalize it? And, where are the arts in the conversation?

Let’s address the arts piece first.

As I have often said, the Arts are the access point to student learning and achievement.  Talk about the ultimate personalized learning avenue: the arts allow for the flexibility, creativity, and collaborative innovation we desperately need within a personalized platform of learning.  Take an art class about impressionism for example.  Students discover about not only the impressionistic style, but the history of how it connected to world events. Along with, the color mixing techniques of the artists and the ratios involved in the creating those colors, the textures of a piece and what layering means both literally on the artwork and figuratively within the art.

Teachers facilitate a dialogue about any or all of these connections and then students can guide their own learning to marry these disciplines in order to create a new work that expresses their own ideas.  This is definitely a personalized approach.  It has to be – art speaks differently to every human being and there is no wrong or right answer.

The difficulty for the teacher lies within “diagnosing” which arts serve as the best access point to that integrated content for each child.  For this, you must include choice.  Not all students have to create an impressionistic painting.  Maybe, some of them can complete an impressionistic marketing piece for a local political campaign.  Maybe some can create a “new impressionism” resonating with their lives. But, uses the foundational processes from the historic movement.  Or, it resembles a piece of art using digital technology to showcase a selected element from that work.  You wouldn’t treat each patient with the same pill and we shouldn’t treat each student with the same learning process and product expectations.

That said, it brings me to my next point.

Now that we’ve personalized the learning for the student (or the teacher if you’re conducting professional development) and personalized their product based on their individual process, what happens to it?  Where does it go, what does it do, how can it then breathe life into a collaborative and innovative new idea?  Often, when asking students and teachers to be innovative, we’re not good at providing the infrastructure to support innovation once it happens.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Our students and teachers create these fantastic ideas and products and share them with others – which is exactly what we want them to do – but when this leads to a revolutionary idea, we don’t know how to help them scale it and share it.  This is where we’ll need to look to businesses that specialize in this secondary process to partner with us in developing the next steps.  This is where business shines – get a new idea and test, scale and sell it.  It’s time to embrace this as we leap into a future we cannot see, but need to aim for.

Steve Jobs has said that “It’s not the technology itself.  It’s the technology married with the liberal arts, the humanities making us extraordinary”. This has the potential to move us forward in education.  Bringing the technology together with the humanities – integrating – to provide personalized learning that can be shared and reshaped into innovation through the global network.  When and how we choose to make this shift will make all the difference in our effect on student success. Not only in their college or careers, but their life.