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Leading Personalized and Digital Learning: A Framework for Implementing School Change

reviewed by Bretton A. Varga & Michael J. Berson - February 08, 2018

coverTitle: Leading Personalized and Digital Learning: A Framework for Implementing School Change
Author(s): Mary Ann Wolf,‎ Elizabeth Bobst,‎ & Nancy Mangum
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682530914, Pages: 200, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Engagement is a fundamental prognosticator for students' learning, achievement, and attainment (Vollet, Kindermann, & Skinner, 2017). Considering the increase in apathy plaguing young learners across the nation, engaging our students in todays world may be problematic for many educators (Wentzel, 2009). However, technology may serve as a nexus between disinterested learners and standardized curricula. In Leading Personalized and Digital Learning (2017), Mary Ann Wolf, Elizabeth Bobst, and Nancy Mangum present a concise roadmap focused on harnessing technology to re-engage students. The authors call for a pedagogical shift towards personalized and digital learning that ultimately seeks the liberation of every students potential.

As defined by the National Education Technology Plan (U.S. Department of Education, 2017), personalized learning is rooted in instruction that follows the interests and pacing of individual learners. It is buttressed by the Four Cscollaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativityand challenges both students and teachers to appraise their strengths and weaknesses. The authors acknowledge that personalized and digital learning will look different by grade level, school, and district, but expertly weave examples of successful transitions occurring on a national level throughout the book.

This book targets school leaders, but begins by exploring the role of the teacher. Leading Personalized and Digital Learning speaks to the imperative nature surrounding the displacement of conventional, teacher-centered approaches in favor of methods that are student-centered. Additionally, the authors make a compelling case for why this shift towards student-centered learning must move away from instructional strategies that are grounded strictly in academic achievement and assessments. Whats necessary isnt a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a reimagining of the locus of control within the classroom. In this educational model, learning is constructed primarily around the needs of each learner, with the pace, instructional strategies, and level of support all being tailored to the explicit needs of each student. To assist in the transition to this approach, the authors describe four essential components: (a) using standards to drive content; (b) allowing flexibility in pace; (c) moving from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction; and (d) developing learner agency.

Leading Personalized and Digital Learning advocates for the implementation of eight essential lessons to facilitate the transition to personalized and digital learning: (a) create a vision focused on teaching and learning; (b) engage stakeholders as part of the team; (c) employ change management and distributed leadership; (d) build a culture of trust; (e) develop professional learning that is personalized and job-embedded; (f) empower students with the Four Cs; (g) create systems and structures that are sustainable and adaptable; and (h) build human capacity with teams. Each lesson is skillfully unpacked in separate chapters and framed around exemplars of practice with advice from successful principals, embedded connections to research, and Try It Tomorrow activities.

With any educational approach that seeks to disrupt current, accepted pedagogies and methodologies, it is crucial to lean on the experiences of others. We felt the inclusion of dialogues with successful administrators is critical for any school hoping to transition to the personalized and digital learning model. While these conversations broach a vast continuum of potential barriers and ways around them, they are grounded in trust and collaboration, which are critical for success. In Leading Personalized and Digital Learning, it is noted that any shift in education is sure to spark a certain degree of trepidation and resistance among stakeholders. However, by involving all stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, administrators, community members, and organizations) in the visioning and implementation process, principals can mitigate many of the fears that commonly accompany any educational change.

Overall, we believe that Leading Personalized and Digital Learning by Mary Ann Wolf, Elizabeth Bobst, and Nancy Mangum, is a relevant, condensed, digestible resource for school leaders interested in maximizing both student engagement and potential. This well-constructed and well-researched framework will provide confidence to any principal wishing to embrace a seismic educational shift at their school site. Change does require patience, and principals must embrace their role in the learning process, but through trust and a strategic focus on student learning, the move to personalized and digital learning can be a successful one.



U.S. Department of Education. (2017, January). Reimagining the role of technology in education: 2017 national education technology plan update. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf.

Vollet, J. W., Kindermann, T. A., & Skinner, E. A. (2017). In peer matters, teachers matter: Peer group influences on students engagement depend on teacher involvement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(5), 635652.

Wentzel, K. R. (2009). Students relationships with teachers as motivational contexts. In K. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds.), Handbook of motivation at school (pp. 301322). London, England: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 08, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22269, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 9:10:04 AM

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About the Author
  • Bretton Varga
    University of South Florida
    E-mail Author
    BRETTON A. VARGA is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida. He has 15 years' experience teaching in the public school system, and his research interests include how educational theories can be used to transform current curriculum.
  • Michael Berson
    University of South Florida
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL J. BERSON, Ph.D., is a professor of social science education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of South Florida and a Senior Fellow in The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. His research focuses on child advocacy and technology in social studies education. He can be contacted at berson@usf.edu.
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