Embracing change can, at times, feel like climbing a metaphorical mountain – a climb which will always come with its own set of challenges and rewards. Implementing a personalized learning approach within your institution is such a change. Communication and planning lies at the heart of a successful personalized learning implementation strategy and we have identified four key factors that will help streamline the whole process.
1. Engage Your Stakeholders
Stakeholders are instrumental to a successful project and engaging those involved from the beginning is vital. Supportive stakeholders not only make your role as leader lighter and more rewarding, but have a key positive impact on course conceptualization and execution, throughout campus and beyond.
Faculty stakeholders will be faced with new technology and pedagogy, sometimes for the first time, but often they have already built up ‘pilot-fatigue’. By building training and consultation into your development plan, faculty can gain a sense of ownership early on and are more likely to embrace the opportunity as one that will enhance personal development. Create a space for open communication so that successes and triumphs (however large or small) can be celebrated, but also so that concerns and doubts can be aired and discussed – this creates a more rewarding relationship and overall experience in the process.
Some student stakeholders will not automatically embrace a personalized learning approach – although those who are interested will self-select and seek your course out naturally. It is important to create processes to gather and analyze student feedback from the outset. Successful personal learning strategies should be designed around the individual learner. By tapping into the strengths, needs, and interests of a learner, an open and meaningful dialogue is created – one where students will understand why a new course format is required. It also provides you and your team with an opportunity to review and assess how well the changes implemented actually meet the needs of the learners from an early advantage point.
Administrator stakeholders need reassurance in the return of investments – in terms of labor and finance. There is strong agreement that the workload can be significant at the development stage, which then reduces as students and instructors grow in confidence and autonomy. Administrators will be more engaged when they have access to both course effectiveness and student success data. Presenting the benefits of personalized learning in real-time student data and involving administrators in the change strategy ensures open communication and support from above.
2. Network Strategy
Being part of a community is a crucial part of the process. On a micro level – within the development team and with stakeholders on campus – networking and open communication builds trust, which is vital when working in a change environment. It also creates space for the development of innovation and creative ideas. Joining a wider community – across institutions and further afield into the larger Higher Education sphere – enables you to access best practices, share skills, and discover relevant case studies that you can bring back to your stakeholder network to keep the conversation on point and engaging.
3. The Right Design for Your Institution
Personalized learning systems should have learners’ needs at the core. The desired outcome of incorporating personalized learning into the curriculum is to create more successful learners. It has the potential to improve a learner’s experience – and that of the instructor.
The various approaches that sit under the personalized learning umbrella can make it hard to know which approach is the right fit for your institution. Recent research carried out by Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein has shown that one of the main drivers for implementing change successfully is ‘outcome’ – when an institution is aware that change is needed. Ask yourself – and your team – what you are trying to achieve with personalized learning, and work out what strategies will get you there.
For a comprehensive model of implementing personalized learning, the Institute of Personalized Learning released a comprehensive toolkit that can take you through the process in step-by-step activities and plans. There may well be elements that you need to tweak to suit your own situation, but it’s a very detailed and inspiring place to start generating ideas.
4. Research & Evaluate
If you have set up factors one to three successfully, then there should be a natural flow of re-assessment already embedded. Communication and feedback – already encouraged through the engagement of stakeholders and connection to networks and community – will lead to a better understanding of the process. As a result, the course re-design will have been structured around a specific set of goals, and honed to meet the needs identified.
The final factor is to ensure you have a successful project by using continual assessment and re-evaluation to analyze the strengths and weaknesses. Setting clear, measurable goals at the development stage will – again – engage stakeholders and influence evaluations. Before courses can be delivered there is also a need for a clear research plan, including setting research conditions (how to collect data and setting control groups for example), to measure the success of the course to secure its sustainability on the curriculum.
At any point in the implementation process, be prepared to re-visit one or more of the four key factors for re-evaluation. It’s vital that those involved are aware that the process goes beyond more than the initial set up.
“Provide guidance through the whole process – from designing, producing, running the course to continuously evaluating, re-designing and implementing changes. Collaboration improves the course and the experience” Michael Feldstein
Building a strong design team and collaborating with the stakeholders should mean you have the right balance within each of the four factors; however, each factor can be fluid to allow for finer tuning and tweaking until you and your team feel the process of implementation is successful.