Education

Personalized Learning and the Five Monkeys

By July 13, 2010 No Comments

BananasWhat a successful ISTE 2010 in Denver! Reflecting on that week, we learned about a number of exciting new initiatives, trends, product launches, and more, emanating from the conference and the trade show floor.

One of the most interesting sessions we attended was a Feedback Forum hosted by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) on Tuesday morning. The two organizations hold Feedback Forums at several conferences throughout the year, giving vendors the opportunity to hear directly from educators and administrators about various topics.

This forum focused on personalized learning, and it was fascinating to hear the perspectives of the ten panelists. The general consensus was that if we compare our current educational system to the business world, we are using a mass production model to deliver education, and we need to move to a system of mass customization.

Where differentiated learning relies on teachers to be the primary instruction-givers, personalized learning draws the student into the learning process through engagement and interest-focused activities. Panelists agreed a paradigm shift was needed – reforming teacher-led instruction practices to emphasize student-focused learning.

Later that day, we had the opportunity to connect with our good friend, William Zaggle, president of GlobalScholar, who shared a story that reminded us of the earlier forum. Have you ever heard the story of the five monkeys?

Five monkeys were placed in a cage where bananas hung from the ceiling. Bananas being a favorite food, the monkeys clambered up the stairs placed in the center of the cage to reach the bananas. To their chagrin, each time they attempted to grab a banana, they were squirted with water. Over time, the monkeys decided the bananas were not worth the hassle. Then, one monkey was replaced with a new monkey. Realizing this cage showcased a beautiful bunch of bananas, the new monkey attempted to climb the stairs to reach them. Unfortunately, on his ascent, the remaining four monkeys grabbed him and pulled him back to the ground. This new monkey also decided the bananas weren’t worth the trouble. One by one, the original five monkeys were replaced with new monkeys – monkeys who had never been sprayed with water – and none of the new monkeys would risk climbing the stairs to get the coveted bananas.

This interesting anecdote illustrates why our educational system has remained the same for hundreds of years: we believe in what tradition tells us is true. Zaggle’s point echoed a comment from one of the Feedback Forum’s panelists: although we have leveraged the teacher-led instruction model in the past, we need to question its efficacy as times change. Personalized learning may be unchartered territory for many K-12 institutions, but we’ll never know if water will be sprayed unless we are willing to rise to the challenge.