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Don't Be Lame, Personalize Learning

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Our secondary students are becoming more connected, more demanding, and less patient. After a first visit to a Sylvan Learning Center, a seventh grader said, "It wasn't lame, in fact it was anti-lame."

Learning should be anti-lame but all too often we've succeeded in making it boring. Like U.S. schools, learning businesses like Sylvan are making the transition to digital to improve their ability to personalize learning.

At a recent Baltimore convening, Sylvan Learning CEO Jeff Cohen said, "Learning should be personal." Cohen noted two drivers of personalized learning: consumer technology and open resources. People accessing Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) on mobile devices is an example of both. Cheap devices and powerful app development platforms are attracting entrepreneurs and capital to the learning sector at an unprecedented rate.

At the same gathering, I told the learning professionals about six important advances underway:

1.Personalization: adaptive tools that quickly diagnose needs and online systems that power anywhere anytime learning.

2.Profiles: comprehensive records of learner progress that help teachers and algorithms better meet student needs.

3.Playlists: a sequence of tailored learning experiences that customizes learning for every student (like iTunes Genius does for music).

4.iPad: cheap mobile devices are powering an explosion of learning apps

5.Progress: it's becoming more common for students to progress to the next unit or grade after they show what they know (see CompetencyWorks.org for more)

6.Platforms: there are lots of efforts to build powerful next generation platforms that combine content, social learning, profiles, assessments, and services.

Together, these six trends are making it easier for individuals to learn and easier for teachers to create great schools.

"There is an art to teaching that can never be replaced, said Cohen. He continued, "The best learning programs blend the two allowing teacher to do more engaging, teaching, and motivating and less time planning, grading, and reporting.

Like many schools, Sylvan is rolling out new technology that integrates computer adaptive assessment with face to face instruction, maximizes time on task, extends the learning day.

Like Jeff, "I can't imagine a more exciting or more opportune time to be living."

Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner at Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in educational technology.