Personalization and Responsibility

George Siemens wrote the Duplication theory of educational value about higher education, but I am going to share a quote from this with a couple adaptations for K-12 public education:

“Let me posit a duplication theory of education value: if something can be duplicated with limited costs, it can’t serve as a value point for [public education]. Content is easily duplicated and has no value. What is valuable, however, is that which can’t be duplicated without additional input costs: personal feedback and assessment, contextualized and personalized navigation through complex topics, encouragement, questioning by [an educator] to promote deeper thinking, and a context and infrastructure of learning. Basically: human input costs make education valuable. We can’t duplicate personal interaction without spending more money. We can scale content, but we can’t scale encouragement”

In The Global Transformation in Education (Updated) Mark Treadwell discusses the ‘perfect storm’ in education which includes the intersection of 3 storms:

1. The arrival of new technologies, and a shift to the internet.

2. A better understanding of how the brain learns.

3. “The ability of young people to build their own creativity; to learn, to be able to research, the inquiry process, action learning, to actually be able to do their own learning and build understanding, and take that understanding and be creative with it.”

One point of disagreement that I have with Treadwell is that he thinks there needs to be far great emphasis on teacher accountability whereas I believe in Andy Hargreaves opinion, in The Fourth Way, that we should be focusing more on teacher responsibility. [Update]

Andy Hargreaves 'The 4th Way' - Pyramid by David Truss

I think focusing on accountability invites a greater emphasis on content & easily duplicated, less valued educational experiences, compared to an emphasis on responsibility… which adds value and can be both humanizing and personalized in nature. On a related thought, and in a yet to be published blog post, I’ll add: (link will be ‘here’ after I post it)

“There are some that think technology is an ‘answer’ to what ails the old models and paradigms; Some who believe that we can replace teachers with class monitors, and computer monitors as well as test markers and digital marking. We need for the transformation we seek to be shared openly, and articulately, so that good pedagogy is explicitly analyzed, questioned reflectively, and improved upon by a community of learners.”

I think one of the underlying things we are all looking at in the quotes above is the personalization of learning. To explore personalization a little deeper, have a look at this chart by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey:

In their accompanying report, Bray & McClaskey share how Assessment of Learning relates to Individualization, Assessment for Learning relates to Differentiation, and Assessment as Learning relates to Personalization.

Assessment as learning (Personalization) is based in research about how learning happens, and is characterized by learners reflecting on their own learning and making adjustments so that they achieve deeper understanding… Reporting in assessment as learning is the responsibility of learners, who must learn to articulate and defend the nature and quality of their learning. When learners reflect on their own learning and must communicate it to others, they are intensifying their understanding about a topic, their learning strengths, and the areas in which they need to develop further.”

Going back to the George Seimens’ quote, educators add value to the learning process by personalizing the feedback and guidance provided to the learner.

Going back to the Mark Treadwell video, he asks, “How do we prepare teachers to teach young people to be lifelong learners? To apprentice them and gradually build the capacity over years to become capable of managing their own learning and learning forever.

Going back to my own quote above, educators openly sharing in learning communities, create an environment where teachers are learners, and they model what they want from students.

Going back to Bray & McClaskey, have a look at the last sentence I quoted above, only switch ‘learners’ to ‘educators’: “When [educators] reflect on their own learning and must communicate it to others, they are intensifying their understanding about a topic, their learning strengths, and the areas in which they need to develop further.

We need to personalize the learning for our educators and our students… seeing both first and foremost as learners. We can’t cookie-cutter our professional development to teachers and expect meaningful results. We can’t evaluate students based on tests with easily Googleable answers. We can develop a sense of learner responsibility by personalizing learning, making it meaningful and making it work that matters.

Finally, if we decide to look at educators and students as learners first, then we also need to recognize the responsibility that comes with being a learner. So much of what I read about now is about things ‘we need to do’ to support the learner. But be they educators or students, learners need first to understand the importance of their own role in learning. Personalization isn’t just about catering to a learner, it is also about learner autonomy and thus learner responsibility.

And so I’ll leave you with a Participant’s Manifesto I wrote a while back. I think that if we are going to move learning on a path of greater personalization, then we need to start with the expectations of the learners (be they educators, students, parents or community members) in our learning spaces, (be they physical or digital spaces).

School 2.0 Participant’s Manifesto

When I enter our learning space I will be prepared to learn, to participate, to engage, to discover, to play, to inquire, to create.

We are all different. Our opinions are different. We all learn differently. Our learning will be differentiated.

Respect makes all the difference.

We are not all equal, but we must all be ethical, just and fair.

Classes are not rooms; they are learning communities.

Our community will use technology effectively, affectively and appropriately.

Curriculum describes and directs; it is not to be prescribed or directed.

Knowledge is static. Synthesis is dynamic. We create meaning.

Collaboration is a series of learned skills.

Grades are measurements; Rubrics offer feedback.

Self-reflection is mandatory.

When I leave I will be more literate, more resourceful, more involved, more collaborative, more connected, more thoughtful and less willing to accept injustice of any kind.

I will make a positive difference in my world.

Cross-posted on David Truss :: Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts


  1. Jason Graham said:

    This post really struck a chord with me. Over the last few years we have been trying to think of ways to move or guide learning more towards student driven journeys where the learner takes responsibility of their own learning. One way I have done this in my class is through a class essential agreement (some teachers might call it Class Rules- I dont). Our essential agreement is similar to your manifesto in a way. It solely places the responsibility of learning on the learners. It is reflected upon throughout the year, kids believe in it because they created it. Quite simply it has an impact how they see themselves as learners.

    July 29, 2012
  2. Great article and couldn’t agree more with the position on personalised learning and the need for greater learning autonomy. Whether the learners are educators or educators preparing students, taking responsibility for their own learning and reflecting on experiences – this needs to be enabled in learning spaces.

    The Context video you refer to by Mark Treadwell was developed for and by PLANE – Pathways for Learning Anywhere, anytime – a Network for Educators. Mark refers to educators operating in an environment of increasing accountability, he doesn’t suggest this is how it should be, it is the current context. In fact the emphasis of our video is about building creativity and the skills to become life long learners.
    The PLANE manifesto is similar to yours and is at:
    PLANE is at: and the website launches for all Australian educators tomorrow, but we’d like to go global 🙂

    July 30, 2012
  3. This is a small world as I sit in my lounge looking out over the ocean in a remote village on New Zealand’s coastline. I thought I had better make comment here too. Standards can be used for good but unfortunately rarely are. The other important issue with standards is that you should not hope to significantly improve standards if these are based on knowledge that is founded on rote learning, especially when viewed across an entire country or jurisdiction. See below for the back-up data supporting this:

    I explain the reasons for this in a short paper I am happy to share with anyone who wants details (email: We know that what is assessed is what is taught, so this too is a dilemma as educators get very little quantifiable feedback to benchmark themselves against and standards do not represent the entire scope of the teaching capability for a teacher. Education is a qualitative process more than a quantitative one so any quantitative assessment should be seen through that lens.

    What we do need to do is see the transformation that education is going through right now for what it is. The transformation is a paradigm shift – the second only in the millennia we have been learning and this is why everything in education is changing simultaneously right now. The printing press and a cadre of social processes initiated the last paradigm shift and the Internet is driving this one. See for details. all the best; Mark Treadwell

    July 31, 2012
    • David Truss said:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I just re-watched your video above and realize that I missed a key point by suggesting that you thought there needs to be far great emphasis on teacher accountability, when actually you were recognizing that as a change we are all facing. On the topic of accountability, I just recently took a jab at Standardized Testing with this image I created:

      Thanks as well for sharing the links in your comment. The ‘Big Picture’ Lifelong Learning image in your ‘Whatever School 2.0 Notes’ is one that I’ll have to digest a bit… there is so much in there! Great to have you connect and to continue a learning conversation that has no geographical boundaries.

      August 4, 2012
  4. Andrew Old said:

    The idea that content is unimportant is something that formed the backbone of the progressive education movement, which was popular in American states schools in the 1920s and British state schools in the 1960s. I can understand why you want to gloss over the shameful history of these ideas, but I think it would be more honest if you admitted that you were arguing for a return to a past era rather than suggesting you are responding to some change in the world today.

    If you did that I think you would be able to be more objective in discussing what has changed and what hasn’t changed. Technology hasn’t changed anything. Education was never about the speed with which you can look things up. You have to actually know things off by heart in order to use them when you think. It is knowledge and, our fluency with it, which gives us the ability to learn for ourselves and to be creative, not training in creativity of “learning to learn”. Our new knowledge of the brain confirms this You can find out by having a look at the books and articles of cognitive psychologist Dan Willingham who writes a lot of stuff aimed at educators. The empirical evidence from psychology also disputes the claim that “We all learn differently”.

    This article, and in particular that video, seems to hinge on a number of myths about history, psychology, technology and learning. I would suggest you look into them and challenge them, rather than encourage educators to accept them uncritically as grounds for a return to the failed tradition of progressive education.

    August 7, 2012
  5. […] One point of disagreement that I have with Treadwell is that he thinks there needs to be far great emphasis on teacher accountability whereas I believe in Andy Hargreaves opinion, in The Fourth Way, that we should be focusing more on teacher responsibility. [Update] […]

    November 7, 2012

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