New school models focusing on individualizing learning


Jun 4, 2009

New school models are appearing that attempt to personalize learning and push education in a more student-centric direction. Some target drop-out students—a classic group of non-consumers—and therefore appear to have some disruptive elements potentially, whereas others are more conventional, but either way, all are something to pay attention to as we rethink what “schooling” should actually look like.

As Clayton Christensen and Jason Hwang write in The Innovator’s Prescription, when there is no non-consumption in a field, the only way for disruption to occur is for something to come in that is both significantly less expensive and better so that the decision to switch over makes consummate sense. Most chartered schools to this point haven’t hit on one or both of these, which has stymied their ability to scale and have broader impact. The below models may give us some clues as to how that could change.

One model is a new chartered school called the Redmond Proficiency Academy. Operated by Personalized Learning, Inc., the school plans to combine the best from “college-, online- and project-based class learning” to formulate a personalized learning experience for students. The school is also moving away from seat-time metrics and time spent in the conventional classroom and instead focuses on demonstration of “proficiency” or mastery inside and outside the classroom to satisfy state and federal requirements.

Westwood’s Cyber High School is another model to follow. It has two models that it lets students choose between. One is “My School,” which has a virtual and a physical component to it where students come into a school lab a couple times a week. The second is called “Not School” where the experience is entirely online. The concept comes from the “Not School” Program in the United Kingdom, and Westwood’s founders have studied the model to learn from its mistakes and successes. The schools target disaffected or drop-out students by allowing them to work in a proficiency-based model of online project-based learning. And it seems to have hit a niche, as many students are gobbling up the offering from all over Michigan.

One other school model that has some exciting potential is Mavericks in Education. It, too, targets drop-out students, with a model that turns the traditional school day on its head as it offers online learning with on-site mentors in its physical buildings during different times of the day for fewer hours to match each student’s unique circumstances—and all students have 24/7 access to learning from anywhere as well. It also has some neat perks that it has built in to motivate students to learn and accelerate their progress.

Learning from these models could go a long way in helping us transform education into a student-centric experience.

– Michael B. Horn

Note: The original post contained an error as it referred to the Redmond Proficiency Academy as the Richmond Proficiency Academy. I have corrected it above and regret theerror.

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.