Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Culture Shift: When the Learner Owns the Learning

by Barbara Bray / Kathleen McClaskey, from

students own their learningAlliance for Excellent Education’s report on Culture Shift provides facts that point to learner-centered instruction and the use of technology to “guide students toward greater ownership of their learning.”

“It is not about instruction or technology. It is about the learner owning and driving their learning.” Barbara Bray / Kathleen McClaskey

The facts in the report are alarming and meant to inform and shake up the system: “One in four students now fails to graduate from high school on time, and African American and Hispanic students drop out of high school at nearly double the rate of their white peers.” We know that school today is designed for the industrial age. It’s not working for students who connect, text, and share in a digital world. Learners today use technology and will continue to use technology in and out of school.

What is the definition of culture shift in schools? 

To ensure deeper learning – to encourage problem solving and thinking skills and to develop and nurture highly motivated and engaged learners, for example – requires mobilizing the energy and capacities of teachers. In turn, to mobilize teachers, we must improve teachers’ working conditions and morale. Thus, we need leaders who can create a fundamental transformation in the learning cultures of schools and of the teaching profession itself. The role of the principal as instructional leader is too narrow a concept to carry the weight of the kinds of reforms that will create the schools that we need for the future. [The Change Leader. Fullan, M. Center for Development and Learning]

 “If culture changes, everything changes.” Michael Fullan

Rick DuFour wrote in his article “Leading Edge: Culture Shift Doesn’t Occur Overnight–or Without conflict.” Journal of Staff Development. 4. (2004) “Culture has been defined as ‘the way we do things around here.” Schools have been doing things the same way for hundreds of years. Changing teaching and learning takes time and some educators and parents aren’t ready about changing to a personalized learning system. To transform an entire system to a learner-centered culture, all stakeholders in the school community need to agree on the shared vision and goals.

Culture change or shift is defined as lasting changes to the shared ways of thinking, beliefs, values, procedures, and relationships of the stakeholders. A school needs trust in changing beliefs, values, and relationships. Change is a difficult process. There are so many types of relationships in schools that impact how people think about school.

Learner-Centered Instruction vs Learner-Centered that Starts with the Learner

This report on Culture Shift stated that learner-centered instruction prepares students for college and a career and that such instruction is:

  • rigorous and based on college- and career-ready expectations.
  • personalized.
  • collaborative, relevant, and applied.
  • flexible, with learning taking place anytime, anywhere.

But what do they mean by learner-centered instruction? The report writes that it is focused on the needs, abilities, and learning styles of individual students. There is no scientific-based evidence that learning styles exist. [Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence]

“We learn lots of things in lots of different ways – while there are parallels, I learned to drive in a different way to how I learned to use a computer, and to how I learned to speak as a child, and to how I learned to look after my children, and to how I learned to teach.” Sam Shepherd [Blog on Learning Styles]

When the learning starts with the learner, the learner takes responsibility for their learning. The report states that the learner owns their learning. There is no evidence in the report how this happens. The teacher, data, and technology guides the learning in the model provided in the report — not the learner. It needs to be about the learner first.

Personalized vs Personal

During Connected Educators Month (August 2012) sponsored by the DOE, we participated in the panels and It’s Personal Forum. One of the conversations was about just this topic. What is it? Personal or Personalized Learning? This report on Culture Shift is framed as “personalized” as Will Richardson states:

 “Personalized” learning is something that we do to kids; “personal” learning is something they do for themselves.

The idea of learner-centered instruction is teacher-driven. The focus is on the teacher differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of all learners.  The learning is not personal nor does it start with the learner. Jim Rickabaugh, Director of CESA #1 in Wisconsin, responded to one of the posts:

“Whether we call it personal learning or personalized learning is less important than whether learners and their voices are fully and impactfully represented in their learning. I disagree with the characterization that personalized learning is done to the learner. We, at the Institute @ CESA #1, have been doing what we call personalized learning for two years and the learner has always been at the center and a co-designer of the work.”

Page 6 ends with “Finally, and consistent with deeper learning and twenty-first-century skills, learner-centered instruction must guide students toward greater ownership of their learning.” Learners learn best if they know how they learn best. We did not see anywhere in the report any reference to the learner taking control of their learning. On the same page, there is reference to the U.S. Department of Education’s national education technology plan that states, “Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs [i.e.individualized], tailored to learning preferences [i.e. differentiated], and tailored to the specific interests of different learners.”

The terms: Personalized, Personalization, and Personal are used interchangeably and tend to confuse educators. Differentiation and Individualization are teacher-centered. There is no learner voice and choice. We created the Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization chart to demonstrate why personalized or personal learning starts with the learner.

Personalized learning means learners…

(continue to read the full article here)

personalized learning

Author Bio

Kathleen McClaskey

Kathleen is a recognized UDL Expert and Digital Learning Consultant with over 28 years experience in using technology in the classroom.

Check out her Scoop-its:

Barbara Bray

Barbara is a Creative Learning Strategist who believes that anyone at any age can learn.

Check out her Scoop-its:

personalized learning


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5 Responses »

  1. Excellent:) this is very important information:)


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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