As I said in Part 1 of this Past, Present and Future blog series, I am captivated by looking at how our perceptions of curriculum and education have changed over time. In this post, I will be focusing on the trends and educational philosophies which are currently occurring around the world. In particular, I will be outlining how these trends also characterize my own educational theory I have called Spark iLearning, which I will describe throughout.

For example, someone in Timbuktu could be accessing Khan Academy as we speak. Someone in the Sahara could be Skyping with a Granny via School in the Cloud. An individual in the Himalaya’s could be undergoing a personalized or adaptive learning experience using Knewton. And to those without access, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t too far behind with his supposedly philanthropic attempt to wire the world.

cogs-in-the-wheelAll this is to say, that the location of the learning has changed dramatically. Where schools, classrooms, and teachers use to hold a monopoly on learning, with the advent of personal computers and phones, the Internet, and various platforms, learning has become an individualized endeavor. Furthermore, where teachers were once deemed the bearer of knowledge as as explained by looking at the educational paradigm shifts mentioned on Part 1 of this blog series, we are noticing that the learner is becoming a more active and immersive player in their own learning.

Student-led learning is perhaps the cornerstone item of my educational philosophy. In fact, this blog and all my professional endeavors have been to advocate for my learning theory, Spark iLearning. In essence, as explained in the banner of this blog, Spark iLearning is about giving our students a chance to incorporate their individual interests, their imagination, and their innovation as they proceed along their independent learning journey. The “i” in iLearning is meant to acknowledge all the amazing “i” words that contribute to amazing learning such as the ones mentioned above as well as individualization, integration, interdisciplinary, independence, interdependence and many more. iLearning acknowledges our students individual interests and attempts to harness and capitalize on these interests in order for students to feel connected to what they’re learning. iLearning also incorporates many characteristics that many educational leaders are speaking about currently such as 21st century skills, learning dispositions, Habits of Mind and non-cognitives. Like many of these educational lenses, iLearning promotes individual’s to develop mindsets, drive, and motivation to learn independently and interdependently, to inquire into the nature of their learning, to innovate future solutions, and inform those around them of their various investigations and iterations. iLearning, therefore, aligns these relevant social, emotional, and professional dispositions with one’s own individual interests and passions in an attempt to teach our students how to learn, how to love learning and how to navigate in a variety of unpredictable settings including school, work and life.

I find corroboration for iLearning from numerous educational thinkers and advocates who are also advocating for student ownership of the learning process. Salman Khan, in reference to Khan Academy, says he wants to create “the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything.” Although Khan Academy may have began with it’s roots in mathematics, it has since branched out to include subject areas such as linear algebra, computer science, cosmology, humanities and even test prep. In this video below, Khan outlines the reason why Khan Academy works; namely, the importance of learning something when someone is interested and motivated to learn it. Therefore having these tutorials available for students when they need them is transformative to their learning process. Students are able to design and direct their own learning and move at their own pace. Looking forward into the future of learning, Khan jokes, “In 500 years I hope people look back and say, ‘Imagine, kids had to learn in classrooms that were like factories and it was unheard of for an eight-year-old to truly deeply understand quantum physics. Isn’t that strange?”’

Ntiedo Etuk similarly illuminates the importance of motivation in learning. In this video, Etuk outlines how video games can be leveraged as learning tools! Specifically how students exhibit grit, determination, resilience, the ability to fail, and drive towards mastery while playing video games. His ambition, when creating DimensionU, was to “use extrinsic motivators and develop an intrinsic love of learning.”

Alan November also argues that we need to restructure the learning environments so that students, not the teachers, own the learning. When talking about his book, Who Owns the Learning, November states, “In the ‘Age of the Empowered Learner’ we can equip our students to take responsibility to manage a large proportion of their learning.” Students being given an opportunity to own their learning will obviously increase their feeling of autonomy and consequently increase their feeling of purpose towards what they’re learning.

When Sugata Mitra won the Ted Prize, he wished to “Build a School in the Cloud, where children can explore and learn from one another.” Mitra believes, not only that students can learn on their own in a self-paced learning environment, but that they can also learn from each other when given the opportunity. This he proved astonishingly well when he did the Hole-in-the-wall experiment in India. His theory affirms the independent and interdependent components of iLearning.

I know this post is supposed to be focused on current trends in education but this trend of personalized learning is nothing new. When I came across the video If Students Designed Their Own School which I blogged Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.59.31 AMabout before in a post titled, Education is…, I explain how prominent the century old William Butler Yeates quote (see picture) was in formulating my educational philosophy. That is until recently when my dad shared an article questioning the attribution of this quote. This may be a tangent but hang in there. Why are so many great quotes misattributed? “I never let schooling interfere with my education” might not have been Mark Twain. Similarly, “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” might not have been John Dewey. So too,”education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire might not have been William Butler Yeates.

Although, I guess it doesn’t matter who said it!!! The real issue is the insights that the quote reveals. Even if we consider a possible variant of the quote that may have been Plato or Plutarch as outlined in the quote investigator, “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting,” we still arrive upon the same message. Only, in this case, personalized learning proves to be even older than I originally thought, thereby illuminating the antiquity of personalized learning. Again, we revisit the past.

So why has it taken us so long to personalize our students’ learning environments considering it’s recognition among educational theorists for so long??? First of all, we had to disassociate ourselves from the factory model of education that was created to meet the demands of the industrial revolution as outlined in Part 1 of this blog series. Secondly, it seems that technological advancements have actually enabled us to truly personalize learning with the creation of various adaptive learning platforms, with increased access to the internet and sophisticated devices that make it all possible.

So, if  Khan’s statement revolving around motivation and access to content doesn’t make you reconsider the benefits of differentiation. If Etuk’s argument for the immersive and the engagement doesn’t suffice. If November’s methods to transfer the ownership from teacher to student doesn’t convince. If Mitra fails to prove that students can learn independently and from each other. If the age-old realization that learners need ignition of their passions and not a passive deposition of content isn’t enough. If you are still on the fence regarding the philosophy that learners desire and deserve a personalized learning journey, then…then…then…I don’t know…

In conclusion, and in my final attempt to convert, I have been fortunate to learn from Ron Ritchart over these last few days as a part of our professional learning at AIS-R and he has affirmed my own thinking regarding the transfer of ownership from teacher to students, the need to develop independent learning and the imperative to develop these dispositions, non-cognitives and/or Habits of Mind I mentioned above. In fact, when I asked him about the impetus for Making Thinking Visible Routines and for Creating Cultures of Thinking and how it relates to developing independent learners, he responded that “the ability to learn continuously has never been more necessary than it is now.”

So, what are we waiting for…?