Earlier this month, the Christensen Institute, Highlander Institute, and The Learning Accelerator welcomed over 100 advanced blended- and personalized-learning practitioners to Providence, Rhode Island as part of a two-day meeting-of-the-minds leading up to the 2018 Blended and Personalized Learning Conference. Part of the event featured peer-focused consultancies, in which one or two leaders presented a problem of practice they face in their district(s) to a small group of peer experts, who then talked through potential solutions. The conversations allowed practitioners to crowdsource solutions, with the aim of gathering a diverse array of advice and inciting creative problem-solving.

Here’s a sampling of the questions posed and a few key takeaways and strategies shared by experts on the ground during the consultancies on blended and personalized learning practices.

  1. Kickstarting culturally responsive curriculum

How might we differentiate and scaffold supports around culturally responsive curricular design (resources, training, narratives) for educators across the adoption curve?

  • Make both logical and emotional arguments. Educators need the why behind a new curriculum to internally “buy in”.
  • Bring in student voices: Pull together student writing or hold a student panel so that students can show the community how a culturally responsive curriculum impacts their studies and lives. Involve administrators and allow teachers to hear the demand for a different curriculum from within their own school building.
  • Create safe spaces. Cultivate teacher conversations as they talk and work through challenges of implementing culturally responsive teaching and learning together.
  • Provide coaching. Run classroom visits to provide ongoing support for new adopters.
  • Celebrate the work as you go along. Value—rather than avoid—risk-taking in rethinking curriculum.
  1. Creating in-house measurement and evaluation of new programs

Before implementing a new tool or program, how can schools/districts set up measurement and evaluation plans with maximum effectiveness? How do we support educators in answering the questions: is this working, for whom, and how?

  • Help school leaders understand the research. Think through ways to give more practitioners the skills needed to analyze measurement data.
  • Find a champion of this evaluation effort in the community. A tool or program to facilitate evaluation is great, but don’t neglect the human factor. Consider setting key incentives for teachers to become leaders in this effort.
  • Establish time guidelines to measure the effectiveness of a new approach. Let educators consider making adjustments to an approach that is not working (as they had hoped) before throwing it out altogether.
  • Aim for continuous improvement as well as summative improvement. Try building the evaluation tool for continuous improvement so that current students do not suffer while poor approaches persist “for research’s sake”.
  1. Curating open educational resources (OER)

How do we encourage and support educators to curate OER, since the biggest deterrent for educators using OER is often the issue of curation? Other issues hindering widespread adoption include both the tech platforms needed for OER, and incentives to use and improve (incentives differ from classrooms to districts to states) OER.

  • Adopt targeted incentives. Incentivizing educators depends on the motivation behind its use. Some incentives might include:
    • giving teachers time to create and curate;
    • offering social incentives, like a ratings system by peers;
    • having the tech infrastructure and platforms that teachers value;
    • giving teachers choice in their OER resources;
    • highlighting great teacher-created OER for recognition at the school-level or community-level;
    • granting teachers permission to fail with OER.
  • Assess outcomes with OER and provide proof of effectiveness [metrics can range from engagement to actual outcomes]. This doesn’t have to be on a school- or district-wide scale. It can be in one classroom!
  • Create OER innovation spaces. Schools could create specific spaces where OER can be used and tested to de-risk these efforts and incubate new approaches that could be used school-wide.
  1. Enhancing educator prep for blended and personalized teaching

How do we ensure high-quality student-teaching experiences so that teacher candidates are best prepared for a blended and personalized teaching environment?

  • Point to demand.There is increasing demand from education students for blended and personalized learning skills. If there’s any skepticism on the higher ed side, it’s perhaps a smokescreen for a lack of skills to teach blended- and personalized-teaching practices.
  • Experiment with a supplementary course. Blended and personalized learning need not be a course unto itself. Many skills needed for blended and personalized practices overlap with the skills needed for today’s teachers in general, so a supplementary course might be all it takes to bolster prep programs.
  • Cultivate observation and modeling. Preparation should include the opportunity for students to practice and be monitored in that practice.
  • Nail all of the necessary skills. School cultures and teacher prep programs must mirror and foster the skills demanded of blended and personalized teaching. Blended- and personalized-learning programs require teachers who are comfortable being “in beta”—in other words, at ease with constant growth and change. Skills include independence, knowing how to learn on the fly, and adaptability. Teachers need both technical skills and soft skills, like mindsets and competencies.
  • Find a common language. Those teaching and those learning need a common language with which to talk about the skills for, and definitions of, blended and personalized learning.

If you’re an expert practitioner in blended learning, sharing experiences, challenges, and effective solutions need not be limited to conferences! Create a profile of your school or district’s efforts on the Blended Learning Universe and ask questions and get answers from other experts on the BLU’s Q&A Forum.

Katrina Bushko and Meris Stansbury contributed to this post.


  • Jenny White
    Jenny White