Scott McLeod’s Sixth Pillar – Individualization of Learning Content and Pace

“Adaptive software systems that enable individualization of learning content and pacing.”

I really wish I had thought of calling the school of the future that incorporates Dr. McLeod’s seven pillars MFS (McLeod Future School) right from the beginning of this blog series! 🙂

The sum of the strands of his futures thinking continues with a sophisticated thread. The thread appears to be to use technology to refine what good schools should be doing in the first place.

Among these are;

– elevate curricula and the instructional strategies that deliver them

– create and expect collaborative communities

– truly adjust to the needs of the individual learner

McLeod’s sixth pilar, individualization of learning content and pace clearly fits with the third point above.

A question, probably an age-old one might be, “Why hasn’t this already happened?” I’d offer that we educators have talked this talk since Fred Flintstone but have never really walked it.

The truth is that it is very hard to individualize content, skills’ levels, and pacing in classes and this is obviously compounded by the number of students in a teacher’s class. Efforts like packets of learning, learning contracts, computerized instruction. homogenous grouping, even a special education youngster’s individualized educational plan, generally in my experience anyway, fail to sustain themselves. And what we usually see, even when students are somehow ability grouped, is that the teacher aims his shotgun – instructional techniques at the middle of the class and hopes that the teaching pellets spray out wide enough to somehow “nick” everybody, at least most of the time.

While I’ve not the answer here, I certainly endorse Dr. McLeod’s sixth pillar. It just seems that we can do this in MFS. Maybe it will be a consequence of the other pillars he has offered and that we have parsed thus far. I suspect strongly, that technology will perhaps provide the future highly trained and skilled teacher to use data about children differently than how we now haphazardly use them. I also strongly hope that MFS will have leadership, both at the principal level and collectively, that will create new kinds of organizational structures, to drive a culture of expectation and of mutual accountability among educators to actually individualize and pace skills and content effectively and longitudinally.

Broken record that I am,( hmm, am I dating myself? There were things like records once that, when broken would continuously play back the same message 🙂 ,having said this several times already, MFS might be responsible for implementing the technological structure and capacity to do what we talk to above. It would even have responsibility for maintaining a culture of expectation for individualization of content and skills pacing. It would even have a responsibility for providing continuous professional development to MFS’ crack staff.

However, thinking systemically, the real responsibility for making sure that staff has the requisite skills and dispositions to manage this into their teaching should clearly fall to the schools of education who produce future’s teachers. Just recently Larry Cuban wondered aloud about the quality of schools of education, notwithstanding national collegiate accreditation agencies of schools of education’s prodigious efforts to produce excellent teachers.

The effective and systems – pervading practices for school district’s and higher education’s collaboration to do this have been more a matter of talking that walk than walking it.

Seven Components for a School of the Future … Part One

I often use the quote, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Various people are attributed to the quote. The latest I ran across is that it is an old Japanese proverb. It means what it sounds like, that when everyone contributes and collaborates about something the group is trying to solve, the solution they multi-generate will be better than a solution that was unilaterally developed by one or two people.

As I’ve pointed out in other posts, there should be a corollary to the quote and that is, “except when we are not so smart together.” That translates to the notion that a group may not necessarily be so smart together if they don’t know how to be smart together.

That is why I particularly enjoyed Dr. Scott McLeod’s blog post a few weeks back,, where he poses some really intriguing ideas about what educational movements are driving what a school of the future, whether it be built from the ground up, or restructured will look like, and invites others to continue to contribute to the very important conversation he has begun!

And with his permission I am doing that within this blog. Certainly you are invited to respond to what I will pose here and / or to Dr. McLeod’s  very excellent blog.


I taught a Planning and Change course to brand new doctoral students at St. John’s University this past weekend. Their capstone assignment is to design a school of the near future ( I said 2020 but who’s counting). After much exchange, a simulation, reviewing trend data, and reading case studies they began their preliminary group work.

They have done a good job thus far and will do a better job after having factored McLeod’s ideas below:

  1. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus from seat time to learning mastery.
  2. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking,communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  4. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  5.  Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  6. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  7. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  8.  ADDED: Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work. (hat tip: Trent Grundmeyer)

McLeod finishes his post by asking “What did I miss here? What would you revise or add to this list? Most importantly, how well is your school organization doing at paying attention to these 7 key components of future learning environments?”

Well here are my thoughts:

– Re competency based education:

Many of these suggestions accent the need to think P-21. That is, while P-12 school systems may certainly have the systemic obligation to continuously upgrade the skills of their teachers and administrators particularly with respect to the ever evolving necessary competencies for excellent instruction, it is also true that Higher Education bears a specific set of responsibilities to graduate teacher candidates who have both practiced and mastered the requisite competencies Mc Cleod speaks to, and also have the intellectual and dispositional capacities to learn new skills as the need for these present themselves.

That is a long sentence I know but it is rife with real issues, issues that have been spoken to from both the K-12 and Higher Education ends before.

School systems we often hold up as exemplars, like Singapore and Finland typically hire teachers who are in the top ten percent of their classes. In the United States our teacher candidates come from the the top two thirds of their classes.

One could argue that perhaps the yardsticks for top ten percent and top two thirds are not the same. But few would disagree that we aspire to create teacher candidates who have shown the abilities to be excellent, effective instructors.. To that end accrediting agencies of schools of education, most notably NCATE and TEAC, have worked hard to establish high standards and rigorous processes to evaluate the quality of schools of education. We can be hopeful that their leadership will contribute to graduating excellent teacher candidates. We have to hope they will have the skills and capacity to carry out many of the components Dr. Mc Cleod notes.

Perhaps the next question would then be whether and to what extent K-12 systems and schools of education have evolved system of continuous collaboration and improvement. Are the structures for ongoing alignment in place?

The most important part of Mc Cleod’s first suggestion is about shifting the emphasis from seat time to individual mastery for students. Of itself this is a massive mind shift both for our present instructional systems and for the parents of students in our present systems, parents who are not accustomed at all to this kind of thinking since they endured, failed at, or succeeded in the “old” seat time system.

Who takes the leadership, what kind of leadership, what kind of communication skills, what sorts of leadership competencies to generate true shared vision and commitment among all stakeholders, are in place so that everyone understands and buys into the richness of the premise that our future students are best served by concentrating on their individual mastery of real, literacies instead of adding up the amount of time their bottoms warmed a seat.?

You know what? I’ve decided that Dr. Mc Cleod’s ideas are too strong and too provocative to take in one blog post. So this blog post will have drawn from his first premise and succeeding ones will follow.

Leadership for a Global Economy

If you’re looking for a textbook or want to read a book re Leadership. Check out book just published where I am co-editor and a co-author, “Leadership for a Global Economy”.

Available through Amazon and North American Business Press.

Trilaboration: When the Lines Among Higher Education, Corporations, and Research Centers Blur

Rick Docksai, associate editor of THE FUTURIST and World Future Review ( has reviewed Jerome and Theodore Gordon and Elizabeth Fiorescu’s book, 2012, State of the Future, which is part of The Millennium Project (www.millennium project) in the latest edition of THE FUTURIST.

Docksai apparently rightfully praises The Millennium Project for its “forward-thinking global scholarship” and cites several insights that the book offers.

As you’d expect I scoured his review for something directly slated toward education’s future. I did note one however “stretched” that did seem to allude to education: “Companies, universities, and research centers will increasingly form partnerships and cooperation networks, combining their expertise to bring new advancements in nanotechnology, photonics, advanced manufacturing, and other areas of endeavor to fruition.”

A couple of things struck me. One was that the quote above more or less affirms what I offered in the previous post, namely that education and economic endeavors will be even more entwined than they are now. On one hand I find this a laudable development in that it only makes sense that learned and expert minds will find ways to Trilaborate to invent new technologies for society’s advancement.

And the other hand it also is clear that the lines among higher education, companies, and research centers become even more blurred. One obvious, potential negative future that could emerge out of this sort of Trilaboration would be how or to what extent higher education might be compromised by the financial power of super-companies. Does higher education become subservient to the super – companies’ economic and profit aims?

Now think about the system that feeds those Trilaborators. Follow it backward down the system chronology. If Higher Education’s aims and visions become twined with Research Centers and Super Corporations doesn’t that also mean that Universities will demand that their K-12 feeder systems send them students likely with the capacity and the talents to feed the Three-Headed Monster?

What kind of Common Core Standards would we be talking about then?