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Day 3: Personalized Learning Environments

Posted on Nov 15, 2012

In any school, it’s important for the teacher to adapt their lesson plan to fit every student’s individual needs. Teachers, classrooms, and schools must accommodate for any and all situations that might arise. Both Montessori and blended learning are great examples of learning models designed with flexibility and preparedness for any student need:

Montessori: Specifically designed Montessori learning materials.

Blended Learning: Online course delivery is tailored to suit the student’s needs.

Much like blended environments, Montessori has open spaces suited for group activity rather than rows of perfectly lined desks. The American Montessori Society describes their personalized nature well:

“Each classroom is uniquely suited to the needs of its students. [For example,] preschool rooms feature low sinks, chairs, and tables; reachable shelves; child-sized kitchen tools – elements that allow independents and help develop small motor skills.”

They provide the students with resources that they can access, handle, and learn from. On day one we talked about how Montessori focuses on an explorative learning environment. Students learn when they come in contact with something – a map puzzle of the United States, a Rubik’s Cube, a chemistry set. Without these hands-on tools, exploration would not be possible.

Here, blended learning is a great reflection of Montessori. Students sit down at their computer and all the tools are laid out before them. The keyboard, the mouse, the ergonomic chair. Let the exploration begin. Yeah, you’re right, that does sound dull, but don’t forget that at each one of their fingertips lay a world of infinite and unrestricted knowledge. In a few taps and clicks they can have a map of North America, the Western Hemisphere, the world, the universe.

It’s not just about the amount of information available to learn either. Blended learning provides access to almost every learning tool possible – screen readers, text-to-speech systems, informative graphics and text to supplement the understanding of a topic. Tools such as these ensure that each and every student in the classroom has an equal opportunity to learn something. Every computer and every lesson can be perfectly suited for the student using it. There are far too many tools and ways to customize instruction to list (in this post).

The American Montessori Society describes Montessori learning materials as being, “ingeniously designed to allow children to work independently with very little introduction or help. The students are empowered to come into the environment, choose their own work, use it appropriately, and put it away without help.” The point of this is to play to the students strengths, to let them learn on their own. Sound anything like universal design? Universal design, I’ve noted before, is a course designed to be: usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Both schools were designed to create the most fruitful learning process possible, one that respects the needs of every student. Why blended learning is more fruitful, we’re talking Kansas State Fair, championship watermelon fruitful, is its convenience and freedom. Students can easily learn whatever they need, however they want. This is made possible through blended learning’s differentiated instruction methods. Students learn both online or off, alone or in a group, through whatever means fits them best – visually, audibly, through hands-on experience, whatever works. Like Montessori, it plays to each student’s strength, but doesn’t forget to pay attention to their weaknesses. Simply put, the environment is all-encompassing. It leaves behind no student or form of instruction. Never has learning been so readily available. Never has watermelon sounded so delicious.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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