Embracing Individuality in Learning: Helping Every Learner Succeed
Todd Rose teaches educational neuroscience at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is the co-founder of The Center for Individual Opportunity – an organization devoted to “the science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society.”
In his book, The End Of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, Todd argues that absolutely no one is precisely average and recognises how humans have come to embrace a way of thinking about ourselves as people that was intentionally designed to “ignore all individuality and force everything in reference to an average person.”
Instead, Todd suggests that there is no average person but rather, jaggedness. In an interview with Anya Kamenetz of NPR.org, Todd explains, “people are jagged in size, in intelligence, everything we measure shows the same thing . . . We’ve got to let go of putting a group into a study and taking an average and thinking that’s going to be close enough to universal insight. Now we have something better. We have a natural science of individuality that gives us a surer foundation. We’ve gotten breakthrough insights in a whole range of research, from cancer to child development.”
Learning systems are a good example of where “averagerianism” – as Todd calls it – comes to life. “Textbooks that are designed for the average will be a pretty bad fit for most kids,” Todd says. “Then you think of things like the lockstep, grade-based organization of kids, and you end up sitting in a class for a fixed amount of time and get a one-dimensional rating in the form of a grade, and a one-dimensional standardized assessment. It’s everything about the way we test and move kids forward.”
In his book, Todd goes on to highlight how all kids are in fact multidimensional in their talent and aptitude and cautions against reducing them to a single score as this offers a false sense of precision. He also outlines how present day institutions are based on assumptions about human beings and a 19th century idea of what an average person looks like, using 20th century statistics. So, considering this argument, is it any wonder that mainstream learning processes are confusing?
Todd believes that talking about behaviour and performance without context is meaningless. He also stands to reason that the way questions are asked drastically affects a person’s ability to answer that question. In the USA, an increasing number of states are trying to practice an “Every Student Succeeds” approach whereby each learner is met where they are with what they need to be successful.
On a higher education level, Todd believes the current systems that are in place are “brutally standardisd.” He explains how it doesn’t matter what your interests are, or what job you want because “everyone takes the same courses in roughly the same time and at the end of the course you get ranked . . . The idea that someone is going to click a stopwatch, compare you to other kids in your class, and the kids with the best grades can get the best jobs, that’s not a good deal.”
On the subject of personalising learning using technology and allowing students to learn at their own pace, Todd explains in his interview that pace has nothing to do with ability. He also discusses emerging trends in the realm of skills development, such as competency-based education and credentialing, suggesting that there are plenty of ways people are making smaller units of learning to combine in ways that are more useful. “To me, competency based education is non-negotiable,” Todd says.
Today, Learnership programmes are becoming increasingly popular to aid skills development as they are primarily outcomes-based and assessment occurs at various stages based on the learner’s level of competence. Learnership training courses are vocational and link structured education to work experience; they help imbue learners with valuable skills that are relevant to a specific sector and directly address the “how” of a skills development strategy. Learnerships also allow learners to obtain a registered qualification in a shorter space of time (approximately over the course of a year) and gain a more in-depth understanding of their chosen career path. Learn more about Learnerships training.