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Operation Customized Learning: The Learning Genome Project

|Posted originally on Dreams of Education on February 19, 2011|

“We have organized schools not by how kids learn, they have been organized by an easy way to teach.” -Daggett

In September I mentioned a “hunch” I was having about education and learning. Since September I have fleshed out that hunch into a business model, prototype, and wireframe and am currently working with a team of programmers to make it a reality. Last night I presented this idea at the House of Genius and got some great feedback. It made me want to know what my PLN geniuses thought about the idea! I would love your input on this project as I move forward, are there things that aren’t clear in my explanation of what I am doing? Ideas for how to improve it? Recommendations? Below is a little background as to the “why” I am pursuing this project along with a brief description of my solution.

Education is currently operating from a factory model where students are treated like widgets. We push them through a system and expect that the result will be “educated” citizens who graduate with the exact same skill set to go to college or get a job. Compounding the problem is boxed curriculum that schools use to meet standards. That boxed curriculum reaches one type of learner in one way. It is scripted and artificially paced. The problem: we aren’t dealing with widgets, we are dealing with children, each with different interests, learning styles, passions, abilities, and developmental levels. As a result of this educational model we have uninspired, unmotivated students that aren’t truly educated. We don’t teach them in a way that really equips them to be successful in life. We teach them how to play the system. That if they read the bolded words in their textbook-they can correctly fill in the worksheet, if they memorize the worksheet they can successfully regurgitate it back on the test. Repeat the process and they can graduate with an impressive GPA. That kind of “education” can go directly from a students eyes to their hand, only occasionally taking up residence in their brains. This is what school “success” has been defined by, and it is getting worse.

Sometimes students will get lucky and learn from a teacher that can draw out passion and inspire learning; but with increased standardization and testing, teachers don’t have time to differentiate for every student. What’s more, they don’t know what they don’t know and may not be able to find the perfect lesson/website/book/video/manipulative for the student.

As a teacher I am deeply concerned about individualizing learning as much as possible, recognizing that every one of my students had unique gifts, talents, passions and that they bring something to the world that no one else does. I started thinking about how we have managed to customize everything from ringtones to hamburgers. We have managed to customize absolutely everything in our worlds except for education. Pandora is a great example, enter one song or artist that you enjoy and an entire “customized” playlist is created based on that one song. You end up discovering artists and songs that you didn’t even know existed, and 9 times out of 10 it becomes a new favorite. If we can do this for music, why can’t we do it for curriculum? This is where my solution comes in, right now I’m calling it the Learning Genome. The Learning Genome is a platform that allows a group of approved educators (experts) to tag curriculum based on a set of learning attributes (much in the way that music is tagged for Pandora). This tagged curriculum works in tandem with a student profile, an individualized learning plan, learning goals (that can be pulled from state standards or learning benchmarks), and a school profile. Teachers can enter a lesson or book that a student enjoyed, and based on that input a customized curriculum can be created for every student. Just like Pandora, the Learning Genome would allow for multiple learning channels. The multiple channels are essential because students have a variety of interests and learning modalities. Now teachers don’t have to endlessly search for the perfect curriculum for a student, the results are delivered to them. Differentiation within the classroom becomes much easier. Teachers can tailor curriculum to meet the individual needs of students in their classroom. Every child benefits from the ability to learn in a way that makes sense to them.

I’m working to make the Learning Genome completely free for educators (and parents/homeschool educators) to use. The curriculum delivered will be a mixture of free/open-source and paid-for content (lessons, books, websites, videos, manipulatives, etc.). The larger vision of the Learning Genome is to make it a complete learning management system complete with a virtual mentor program (Twitacad), electronic portfolios, blogs, wikis, planners, and an ability tracking system. Those additional features will be added after the “hub” of the Learning Genome is in place.

The Learning Genome will be available to every school, everywhere. To fully realize the vision of customized education, I am working to start a school that will use the Learning Genome as the foundation for individualized learning.

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