Rural Education Collaboratives for Personalized Learning

This blog is the third in a series on strategies and resources to help rural educators implement critical improvement initiatives. This blog series will share and build on lessons and best practices that are working in rural districts. An introductory blog post outlining the series is available here.

One of the reasons behind the rise of rural education collaboratives is the need for support and collaboration around complex initiatives. Therefore, it is not surprising that many collaboratives are working to support personalized learning for students.

In a personalized learning environment, learning opportunities are tailored to the unique needs and interests of each student rather than to a set scope and sequence of curriculum. The U.S. Department of Education defines personalized learning as “instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) may all vary based on learner needs. In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update, p. 9).

Many rural districts have shown interest in personalized learning because of its potential to help rural educators address common challenges, such as disparate learning needs based on high mobility rates or inconsistent attendance. Personalized learning can be a flexible and adaptive strategy for ensuring students stay on-track to graduate college and career ready. For middle and high school students, personalized learning can also include making connections with business and industry experts in the community, leading to more strategic connections between schools and local economic development activities.

Although personalized learning does not necessarily require additional staff or funding, access to technology plays a major role in many personalized learning approaches, especially for middle and high school students. Many rural districts do not have available funds needed for helpful supports such as computer-adaptive tests or personal devices. By participating in a rural education collaborative, districts can create a larger pool of shared resources to invest in personalized learning infrastructure. Likewise, collaboratives can help rural educators share strategies for infusing personalized learning into curriculum and lessons without relying on expensive technology-based solutions.

For example, the Wisconsin eSchool Network includes twenty rural schools and uses its collective spending power to develop innovative and personalized online learning experiences for students. This variety of centralized resources and tools, which would be significantly costlier for member schools and districts to create or purchase on their own, include:

  • A course registration and management portal
  • A learning management system
  • Online learning content
  • Support tools and services
  • Training materials
  • Professional learning curriculum and resources

Interested in learning more?

For more information on personalized learning, check out the personalized learning webinar series from the College and Career Readiness and Success Center here. For more information on how specific schools and districts have implemented personalized learning initiatives, see the personalized learning examples from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology.

Click here for the next post in the series, “Supporting Rural Educator’s Professional Learning Through Rural Education Collaboratives.”