By Andrea Hernandez

“We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”– John Dewey

This quote, from learning theorist John Dewey, is one of the most widely-shared and oft-repeated ideas in educational circles. It is true that reflection deepens and extends the learning process. It is furthermore true that we learn from the reflections of others’ experiences, but only when the learner chooses to share.

Learning is messy. As schools explore and experiment with new platforms and pedagogies, the educators involved learn a tremendous amount through their trials and errors. By taking the time to reflect in open spaces about what their learning, they create a valuable resource that can be used by others. In essence, the rest of us have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us…but only if they choose to share.

Currently, there are six Jewish day schools who are in their first year of using the personalized learning platforms provided by either Summit Learning and AltSchool. All six of these schools have committed to sharing at least five reflective blog posts, exploring topics of interest to them and their schools, as they learn about personalized learning through doing the work of implementing personalized learning.

Personalized learning is currently among the most popular buzzwords in educational circles. A quick Google search for the term yields everything from definitions of the term to benefits, criticisms, how-to’s, helpers, warnings, praise and technology companies that offer schools the platforms around which to structure a personalized approach. Personalized learning, as the term in used in the Summit and AltSchool, refers broadly to an individualized approach where students work through a curriculum at their own pace, setting goals and demonstrating evidence of learning. The teacher’s role naturally shifts to that of mentor and coach as the learner takes ownership of his/her growth.

An educator or school interested in these platforms will find an abundance of online marketing materials from the companies that tout their platform’s ability to transform schools,, as well as posts from detractors decrying their potential for destruction of the learning environment. It can be difficult to find a tempered, thoughtful, non-promotional voice that examines the issue from various lenses and shares meaningful information.

Enter the Personalized Learning Platforms blog. This blog is a project of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. The dual objectives of this project are to offer Jewish day school educators pioneering either Summit Learning or AltSchool a space and opportunity to reflect on their own learning and, in the process of doing so, to provide genuinely useful information for other educators seeking to learn about these platforms.

Schools, Platforms, and Project Documentarians

This blog provides a unique perspective that can not be found elsewhere. While Jewish schools come in many varieties, they share similar foundations and structures. For example, Rebecca Berger of Bader Hillel High, in comparing Summit to another online learning platform also used by the school, referred to the flexibility Summit provides with regard to Jewish holidays. The diversity of experiences and perspectives of six Jewish schools using two different platforms creates a mosaic of topics and potential from which to garner rich food for thought. Current posts address such topics as underlying goals for adoption of the platform, how teachers using the platform perceive the changes to teaching and learning, how the implementation was communicated to school stakeholders and obstacles with student buy-in.

In order to move beyond the buzzword, to make a reasoned and thoughtful decision about the merits and potential drawbacks of personalized learning, as well as awareness of challenges to be addressed (or possibly sidestepped with forethought), it is infinitely helpful to look at the map charted by the pioneers that are currently navigating the route and creating a path. These reflective learners are generously sharing their roadmaps with the world, not to bring attention to their schools, but simply to make the path a little smoother for someone else.

Please join the conversation by adding your thoughts and questions.

Andrea is a strong advocate for the thoughtful use of technology to make education more relevant for today’s students. She is a passionate believer in student choice and voice. As part of her work at the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, she co-created edJEWcon, a conference on 21st century learning for Jewish day school educators. In her current role at Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, she serves as Associate Director, Teaching and Learning, where she coaches teachers and administrators to transform teaching and learning through the thoughtful use of technology.

Cross-posted from Prizmah