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Personalization

In this post I’d like to expand some more on premise number 1 – that, in our new world of global communications, students and parents will become increasingly empowered to receive a personalized approach to curriculum delivery. This is central to the ideas presented in this blog because, as I ended with the last post, it represents a complete reversal in how public education systems will need to be structured. The schools that best optimize their information stock in this new world order will have the best cultures to meet the personalized needs of students and their parents.

On the surface, one could interpret this as an overly zealous prediction. But to clarify, I am not suggesting that our current educational systems lack overall integrity or a genuine desire to meet student needs. It’s just that, as Richard Elmore (see the last post) articulates, our current educational systems are rooted in a centuries old foundation of compliance to the status quo through loose coupling.


The difference now is that our educational systems will have to become truly responsive to individual demand. Schools won’t be expected to simply teach curriculum to all students the same way. The bar will continue to rise. Students will increasingly feel free to say “I want to learn like this” because they will be empowerment to do so.


So, what evidence is this premise based upon?


In response, I could suggest simply looking at how service delivery in private and public enterprise has changed and continues to evolve at a rapid pace all around us. But, for more specific evidence, I’ll refer to another good read; this one entitled micro trends.


The author of micro trends (2007), Mark J. Penn, is known for inventing the term “soccer moms” as a defining force in Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. In the book, a micro trend is defined as “ an intense identity group, that is growing, which has needs and wants unmet by the current crop of companies, marketers, policymakers, and others who would influence society’s behaviour.” The evidence is derived from demographic research and analysis.


The book offers seventy-five examples of micro trends to demonstrate how we are moving to a future “in which choice, driven by individual tastes, becomes the dominant factor, and in which these choices are reinforced by the ability to connect and communicate with communities of even the smallest niches.” I’d like to list seven of the seventy six here to demonstrate the reality of premise number 1.


1. “DYI (do it yourself) Doctors” The biggest trend in [American] health care is people who research, diagnose and administer cures to their own illnesses. As a result, doctors will find it increasingly necessary to develop more flexible and egalitarian relationships with their patients. If it can happen in medicine with doctors, why not in education with teachers?


2. “The Mildly Disordered” refers to a significant increase in young people diagnosed with learning disabilities, neurological disorders and other conditions. Interestingly, this increase is disproportionately evident in higher socio demographic populations where “not having an occupational therapist, speech coach, or socio-emotional counsellor by the time you are 12 is practically a sign of parental neglect.” In other words, we are moving increasingly closer, by demand, to having a specific and individualized educational plan for every student.


3. “High School Moguls” More and more young people are using their on-line time to make money. Babysitting and newspaper routes don’t hold the same appeal as they did for the boomer generation. As a result, our children are becoming increasingly adept at becoming entrepreneurs. What will they want from education?


4. “Video Game Grownups” What use to be a fringe hobby for young people is now a mainstream activity for grown-ups and families in general. Now think for a moment about the untapped marketplace that is potential for game-creators once they understand how to apply gaming structures to wider facets of our daily lives. Now think what that means to the demand for education through gaming structures.


5. “America’s Home -Schooled” The number of home-schooled students in the US now outnumber charter school and voucher students - combined. Of course there are a variety of reasons for this, but what is truly outstanding is that “fully 77% of home-schooling families rely on home-school-specific companies for their curricula, texts and other educational materials.” But, as tax paying citizens, home-schoolers are also looking for more and more services from public schools.


6. “Mini-Churched” We tend to think a lot about big religion; Christianity and Islam. But perhaps we should think more about the rapid growth of small religion. It is remarkable to consider that“there are nearly 10,000 distinct and separate religions in the world – with two or three new ones being created every day.” If big religion is losing ground to the growth of comparatively tiny micro alliances, can education be far behind?


7. “Eurostars” The title for this micro trend relates to declining fertility rates in Europe where, overall, there aren’t enough children being born to sustain the existing population. But fertility rates in North America are also lower than they have ever been. The real implication of this micro trend is the rapid increase in one child families. These new cohorts, with the day-to-day active involvement of their parents, will demand an unprecedented level of personalization from education.


So, are these micro trends for real? Time will tell. But time is also moving quickly.


On the whole, I think there is compelling evidence all around us to suggest that our educational systems need to adapt to a new definition of service delivery. Let’s use this evidence to our advantage to push the process forward.

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