Life skills are those that allow us not just to function in everyday life, but to make positive, thoughtful contributions to the world. We begin developing these social, emotional, mental, and physical skills at birth: identifying people who care about us, learning self-care, communicating, and socializing are just a few.
With lots of practice and learning, these life skills evolve throughout our lives. We use them in our personal lives and in the work world.
One type of learning that improves our life skills? Customized learning.
Customized learning gives students a voice in designing when, where, and how they learn, empowers them to make thoughtful decisions, and requires that they create and maintain strong relationships with their teachers.
It’s rigorous and personal, and it’s not about plopping students in front of screens all day. It’s about students using technology as a tool for human connection to grow and learn.
For a customized learning model to work, teachers need to guide and facilitate a student’s learning process through a variety of pathways including courses, team projects, experiences, and individual projects. Let’s explore how customized learning supports New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices.
New Hampshire Work Study Practices
Communication. Creativity. Collaboration. Self-direction. The work-study skills that the New Hampshire Department of Education identified in 2014 are those “Behavioral qualities or habits of mind that students need to be successful in college, career, and life.” They’re the same skills that high school graduates need today.
As the world goes digital, companies, non-profits, governmental institutions, hospitals, schools, cities, and towns--the very infrastructures in which we live and conduct our daily lives--will need people to innovate, manage, and inspire at the digital level.
It’s about helping students develop the skills and abilities to facilitate and adapt to change at a rapid pace, ask questions, surround themselves with people and resources that can help them, and find solutions to problems quickly.
Let’s take a closer look at how customized learning prepares students to embrace the college-, career-, and life-readiness and the workplace readiness skills necessary for 21st-century success.
A college-, career- and life-ready student needs to be able to communicate effectively across a wide variety of platforms, from in-person to electronic, to hybrid forms.
Successful students will need to take in all types of information from a multitude of sources, understand it, process it, and communicate new ideas.
The key? Students need to be able to do this quickly. Here in the digital age, information travels in nanoseconds and we’re constantly bombarded with it.
How can customized learning help? In customized learning, students use a variety of tools to communicate with their teachers and their peers. They may take online courses, participate in team activities, group projects, or experiences.
How do they communicate? They write, talk, present, and learn the differences in how they speak in professional and less-formal settings by participating in career exploration, work-based learning, internship, entrepreneurship, and traditional courses.
They use any combination of online tools including social media, email, project management applications, video conferencing, and non-web based applications to do their work--and they need to demonstrate not just competence in their school work, but competence in using and engaging with the tools that make their work possible.
Students in customized learning programs put themselves on a path towards success by seeking to communicate at all levels so that they can not only participate in the digital world but also excel.
Students who bridge the gap between the digital and non-digital worlds and are college-, career-, and life-ready rely on creative strategies to solve problems.
They need to innovate solutions to complicated problems and they can’t be afraid to make mistakes. They need to be willing to use technology as a source of inspiration for innovation--maybe they saw an idea on Twitter or read about a strategy that someone else used. They’re willing to reach out in the digital world to seek help from reputable sources and can discern who’s reputable and who’s not.
As students experience more of the working world through job shadowing, internships, volunteer work, and entry-level jobs, they develop relationships with mentors, experts, and colleagues and begin to grow not just their professional networks, but their social ones, too.
These networks give students a vital connection to creative problem solving--they have people on whom they can rely on to answer questions.
This applies not just in the digital world, but in face-to-face settings, too. Creative, college-, career-, and life-ready students learn how to gauge people and experiences in-person and virtually by communicating in both ways (see #1).
They know how and when to take calculated risks with their thoughts and actions.
Customized learning, by its nature, requires students, teachers, and families to think outside the box when it comes to education. The traditional model of taking classes in a classroom doesn’t apply. While students can’t necessarily dictate the content that they need to learn, they can choose how, when, and where they learn--and to a large degree, with whom.
Customized learning also allows those students the opportunity to unleash their creativity outside the boundaries of a traditional academic setting. While they’re grounded in their responsibility to excel, they also have the freedom to dream and explore.
What have students in customized learning done? They’ve not only taken a creative approach with their education, they’ve also learned how to harness their creativity in academic, professional, online, and face-to-face settings.
While it’s nearly impossible to measure, collaboration is key for 21st-century citizens and leaders. Why? Digital leaders create, maintain, and inspire the digital space where work happens--and that work happens with other people inhabiting the same digital space.
Here’s an example: when a sales and marketing team at a company wants to influence the company’s web presence, they probably need to work with folks in the IT department, the content marketing department, and a photographer, who may work outside the company.
A creative leader who can clearly communicate and think creatively will also be able to inspire all those stakeholders and ensure that they have the digital tools they need to communicate effectively and get the job done.
What does a student in customized learning model do? Uses digital tools to communicate and collaborate with teachers, students, and outside experts. Not only that, students in the customized learning model know which tools to use for the type of communication they want. Sometimes, email is a better choice than a video conference. Other times, social media might be more appropriate. If students are working together on a project, they may choose a project management platform.
Students develop these traditional communication tools while collaborating on real-world activities such as volunteering, work, job shadowing, and internships.
In the digital world, motivation is key.
Challenge old systems. Challenge new systems. Ask questions. Know where to find answers. Know where to ask for help if you need it.
College-, career-, and life-ready students have a growth mindset when it comes to persevering in the face of challenges. They aren’t afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, or innovate new solutions. They can admit defeat and move on.
An effective college-, career- and life-ready student will be able to look at multiple facets of a problem. For example, a good leader is just as concerned about the user experience of their website as they are about the website’s coding, design, implementation, and maintenance.
As for customized learning? A successful student anywhere needs to be curious about the world around them--digital or analog--and needs to be motivated to learn about everything.
As students, teachers, and the larger educational community navigate the world of customized learning, they must be curious about how it works--and have the self-direction to innovate solutions to how education can be better, how there’s always room for improvement.
Customized learning gives students four skills critical to success in the 21st century, and prepares them for the workplace. Students gain skills in communication, creativity, collaboration, and self-direction in customized learning models that allow them to make positive contributions and changes in our digital world.