The research and literature that explores how adults learn consistently emphasizes the importance of personalization in the learning process (Russell, 2009). While it’s generally accepted that personalization is a positive goal when designing learning environments, the practical challenges associated with accomplishing this can often be overwhelming.
Personalization requires motivation and relevancy on the part of the learner and educator. Many conventional approaches to supporting learning through courses fail to reach high levels of personalization due to the practical challenges associated with managing large number of learners.
In this article, I explore a very old model of facilitating learning – the apprenticeship. While this approach has been used for centuries, the basic principles hold important opportunities for innovation in modern learning environments.
Apprenticeship Models in Education
For the purposes of this article, I’ll define apprenticeship as an experience that provides guided opportunities for learners to engage in developing knowledge and skills under the direction of a coach or mentor. We have recently seen aspirations to expand these approaches in healthcare, manufacturing, and other high-demand occupational fields (The White House, 2017). The underlying assumption is that this approach can provide an effective means to prepare a competent workforce.
In many cases, the purpose of this approach is to provide learners opportunities to apply their formal educational experiences in the context of “real-world” situations. Traditionally, apprenticeships were oriented around trades where a master craftsperson guided the learner through a co-directed learning experience that could last for many years (Technical Education Matters, 2011).
The primary advantage of apprenticeship models is the opportunities for personalization and customization of learning experiences. This personalization also takes considerable time and resources to deliver, which can limit the ability to scale this approach.
The remainder of this article focuses on how educators can leverage elements of apprenticeship models to personalize and scale high quality learning experiences.
Planning Personalized Learning Experiences
The following diagram is a Strategy Board of an apprenticeship-based learning exercise. The purpose of this Strategy Board is to outline an approach for designing and planning personalized learning experiences using the apprenticeship approach.
Notice the desired result, or evidence of learning, is guided by a project and portfolio of the learning experience. This is decided upon by both the learner and educator and should involve opportunities for public sharing of the result.
This result is supported by intentional practice and progress check-ins using tools like learning contracts and planning meetings with the educator. Feedback should also be provided through other means such as public sharing.
The learning experience is supported through informational resources and specific guides or tutorials for learning skills. This might be delivered online or in-person. The use of online materials can help scale personalized learning experiences. Ongoing communication takes place between the learner and educator which could also be available in groups, if similar interests and topics are present.
The learning experience is largely informal in nature and supported through both virtual and physical learning interactions. The learner takes on high levels of ownership in the learning process. Some formal opportunities like workshops or seminars may also be used to help accomplish specific learning goals. These methods enhance the apprenticeship by aligning it with transformative learning theory frameworks: learner-centered experiences that elicit critical reflection then promote dialogue about the learner’s growth and subsequent change in behavior or perspective.
Making Apprenticeship Models Practical
Before implementing apprenticeship-based learning opportunities in practice, it’s important to note several key design considerations.
- Effective apprentice models require considerable time, planning, advanced facilitation skills, and flexibility. You should expect (and be comfortable with) lower levels of structure and allow leaners to play a larger role in defining the goals for the experience.
- Learners should come with a good idea of their learning goals. This means they should have the ability to reflect on their own learning process and have a level of awareness of their own learning process. The learner and educator should also spend a good deal of time on defining the desired learning outcomes together. Consider using learning contracts as a supportive tool.
- To scale apprenticeship models effectively, you will need to create a plan and supporting materials for learners. This provides a framework for learners and a method for supporting the holistic learning process while still providing opportunities for personalization.
Apprenticeships provide a valuable framework for innovation and personalization of learning experiences. The benefits of this model offer learners and educators opportunities to increase motivation and relevancy of learning experiences. Scaling personalization beyond a few learners can be one of the more challenging aspects of this approach; however, these challenges can be overcome through careful planning, intentional resources, and supportive tools.