Mass Customized Learning in a Grad Course


This is a post from Mary Callan, member of the Bright Futures Partnership

Cover of Inevitable: mass customized learning by Bea McGarvey and Chuck Schwahn

I am currently teaching a graduate course for Thomas College called Trends in Instruction.  Over the past three years, I have really enjoyed exploring researched-based instructional strategies with the dedicated teachers who are working hard to make a difference in their classrooms.  Each time I teach the course, I use a current educational trend as a focal point to get the class thinking about what it really means to be “researched-based”.  This trimester, I decided to focus on Mass Customized Learning as this seemed to be the latest trend our teachers are being asked to explore and/or implement.

As it turns out, most of the students in my course are currently teaching in districts that have embraced this trend and are well on the way towards implementation.  And their stories are so telling!

To a teacher, each of these educators are supportive of the concept of individualized learning.  To a teacher, they experienced some level of excitement and/or optimism in the early stages of exploration.  And to a teacher, they are becoming disillusioned, confused, and even angry about how this latest trend is being implemented in their systems.

So… we spent a good part of a class recently exploring why the change?  What is not working with an innovation that teachers, for the most part, wholly embrace and support?  And the conclusion is that the implementation does not reflect the same principles of  individualized learning that is at the heart of mass customized learning.  Teachers are being told how and when they must implement this way of teaching (and, by the way, they are not entirely clear on the what… so that makes the how and when a bit difficult to accept)… There do not appear to be multiple paths and timeframes for getting there (wherever “there” is).  Some of my students have been early adopters and are really feeling that their insights are not being solicited and heard.

So, perhaps there is some learning here for those who are hoping that this latest trend, and by all accounts a very worthy one, can be successfully implemented… by following the same principles set forth for students… each teacher (and administrator) establishes  a 60 day plan that provides goals and activities that would move them towards implementing mass customized learning.  Each would have a mentor that would serve as a cheerleader and provide feedback and resources.  The plan would be shaped by the teacher (or administrator) and evidence would be collected to show progress and growth.  There would be systems, structures and practices identified to support the plan. Accountability would be individualized and meaningful to the teachers and administrators who, are, after all, learners, too!

For more information on mass customized learning….


2 Responses to “Mass Customized Learning in a Grad Course”

  1. Nancy Hudak Says:

    And this demonstrates the problem with scaling up much of any idea. Over the years, the idea becomes the property of administrators, not teachers, so it’s top-down not grassroots.

    It also illustrates the problem with long-term implementation of any idea (educational or otherwise). The excitement of a new idea diminishes over time and it becomes commonplace. Any practice that requires a great deal of mental energy also becomes tiring and, sometimes, tiresome.

    Finally, I predict that any teacher who uses Mass Customized Learning as she understands it and contradictory to the understanding of the administrator will be quickly taken to task. Mass Customized Learning will not be interpreted as Mass Customized Teaching.

  2. marycallan Says:


    this is a very concise description of what my students are saying is happening in their systems. So how can they influence the direction that this latest trend appears to be taking? When I suggested that they present a plan to their administrators that is well thought out and aligned with the principles of MCL, they said it is too risky as this gets interpreted as resistance. Who has the ear of the top administration that can perhaps bring awareness to this?

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