I have always wondered why, after all these years, schools have not been able to break free of the shackles of the factory model. The Factory School was developed in the 19th century and has survived wars, computer revolutions and other societal transformations. The Factory School has characterized public education, and even most private education, since public education began in the United States. The factory school is regulated by bells, students sitting in rows ‘learning’ the same things at the same time and teachers often seeing more than 100 students per day. School buildings were designed to accommodate the model and most education programs likewise focused on preparing teachers and administrators to function within this system. The model worked, more or less, when most work was in factories. However, around 30 years ago a transformation began.

The Digital Age, The Knowledge Age, The Information Age….whatever you wish to call it, changed us and the way we do things, forever…..outside of school. Inside school was a different story. The same teacher lectures occurred; students still sat in rows and next to someone the same age; the bell rang and everyone got up and went to their next class. Instead of personalizing the school experience, testing (often called accountability) became the buzzword. Other reforms occurred, but mostly in terms of scheduling and special education. The school was still focused on the teacher and teacher comfort. Personalized learning was done on an individual teacher basis.

The lack of personalized learning after so many years is disturbing, considering that John Dewey wrote about it more than 70 years ago in several books, including Democracy and Education and Schools of To-Morrow. Clearly, the education establishment is slow to change. Recent reforms did not even originate from those directly in education, but from the business community and large publishers, who have profited the most from the testing craze.

What might personalized learning look like? After a certain grade, should students only take subjects that interest them? What should the basic courses be considered and when should those basic courses be considered complete? There are many questions to be answered. I believe that the answers will lead us to the junction of personalized learning and online education. In the next few blogs, I will explore the possibilities that online education can allow in this new learning model.