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6 minutes reading time (1152 words)

A High School for Fully Personalized Learning

I have long been interested in Project-based Learning (PBL). The References and Resources section of this IAE Blog includes links to some of my writing in this area.

Thus, I was interested when I read the article, Vista High Prepares to Create School of the Future (Brennan, 12/27/2016). Quoting from the article:

Since learning in September that they’d won a $10 million grant to create an innovative “school of the future,” Vista High School [San Diego] educators have been charting their next steps in transforming the North County campus into a personalized learning academy. [Bold added for emphasis.]

This is a five-year project, one of ten funded at $10 million each through QX: The Super School Project. A substantial amount of the funding for the Super School Project is coming from Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (QX, 2016).

Project-based Learning (PBL)

Before reading the article, I was not sure what a personalized learning academy is, but I assumed it would include individuals and groups doing Project-based Learning (PBL), as well as other provisions to increase student choices.

Nowadays, I think of PBL as a very general approach to learning. I wake up in the morning and I am faced by projects such as: getting dressed; tooth brushing and flossing; taking vitamins and medications; getting breakfast; reading the news on my tablet computer; etc.

You can see where this is heading. It is possible to view a person’s day as dealing with a series of projects to be accomplished. Some take only a few minutes to complete, while others may require hours, days, or even more time. Many are projects that the person routinely encounters, but some are new and perhaps quite challenging.

I think of a project as a problem or task that consists of:

  1. A given initial situation. (My starting point.)
  2. A goal. (What I want to accomplish.)
  3. Resources available to me that I can use to try to achieve the goal. (Resources include my knowledge, skills, and experience; my accumulated money and retirement income; my computers and access to the Web; my friends; medical and other professionals; etc.)
  4. My ability to determine when (and if) I have achieved the goal. (I am reminded of the following quote:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use
being a damn fool about it.” (W.C. Fields; American comedian and actor; 1880-1946.)

I think of school as an opportunity for each student to develop both academic and personal knowledge and skill resources, ones that are immediately useful and/or that will likely prove to be useful in the future. Quite a bit of the curriculum in schools is currently specified by people who have thought long and hard about what academic knowledge and skills, as well as more general personal knowledge and skills, are likely to be important to all students. They also specify the more specialized knowledge and skills that might be important to small groups of students.

Thus, all students are expected to make significant progress in learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. A smaller number of students may spend a great deal of time and effort in various sports, in music, in theater, in preparing for specific jobs, etc. To a considerabe extent, student choice on what to learn and how to demonstrate this learning is rather limited.

The New School

Here are four additional quotes about the new San Diego school from the Brennan article (12/27/2016):

The plan will expand the school’s focus on “personalized learning,” a flexible educational system that lets students master skills at their own pace, draw from diverse resources in the classroom, online and in the community, and set goals based on their own interests. [Bold added for emphasis.]

“Personalized means not just having control over a piece of your learning, but being able to pursue problems that are interesting and fascinating to that child,” she [Allison Zmuda, a Virginia-based educational consultant working with the district] said.

As part of their curriculum, students will refer to a series of United Nations goals for sustainable development, and complete projects addressing topics such as poverty, hunger, health, education, clean water or climate action. As they work toward specific standards in disciplines such as English, math or science, they will employ those new skills to help solve the challenge they set out for themselves. [Bold added for emphasis.]

The program will also focus on critical thinking skills, helping students evaluate information and find resources for what they need to know, said Vista High School Principal Anthony Barela.

Final Remarks

This school of the future project includes substantial funds for staff development, which will certainly be needed. The article is weak in its discussion of roles of Information and Communication Technology. There is no mention of the word computer, and online is mentioned only in terms of online resources available to students (see quote above). However, technology is emphasized in this brief description of the project from the QX: Technology in the Schools website (QX, 2016):

Serving over 2,600 students, Vista High will prove that rigorous, personalized learning is possible. Report cards will be traded in for a Learning Positioning System that gives each student and their teachers a real-time roadmap of their academic growth. Working in immersive, technology-rich environments and guided by project-based instruction, Vista students will address major global challenges and apply their knowledge to solve local problems affecting them and their communities. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Finally, the article made no mention of research that supports this approach to designing and implementing a school of the future. Moreover, there was no mention of formative, summative, or long-term residual impact evaluation research that would provide detailed information about the effectiveness of the project. A rough rule of thumb is that such research should be funded at 10% to 20% of the entire project funding.

References and Resources

Brennan, D.S. (12/27/2016). Vista High prepares to create school of the future. The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 3/1/2017 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Moursund, D. (2016). Good PBL lesson plans. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/1/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2016). Math project-based learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/1/2017 from

Moursund, D. (2016). Project-based learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 3/1/2017 from

Moursund, D. (7/22/2014). Using Grand Challenges in project-based learning. IAE Blog. Retrieved 3/1/2017 from

Moursund, D. (1999; reprinted 2/6/2016). Project-based Learning using Information Technology. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from Download the Microsoft Word file from

QX (2016). The future of American Schools is on its way. QX: The Super Schools Project. Retrieved 3/2/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:

Two Historically Important Math Educators
Student Homelessness in the United States


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Friday, 24 September 2021

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