Mass Customized Learning Comes to Central Pennsylvania


This post was originally written this past fall as a FB note, but I am posting it here now so that it can be more widely available.

“Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning” is a book and an educational program developed by education theorists Charles Schwahn and Bea McGarvey. Is is one of a number of “personalized” digital education programs popping up in schools across the country. The program, implemented in several communities in Maine, has been widely criticized and resulted in large numbers of teachers leaving those districts. Concerns included the fact that there are no traditional grade levels or letter grades, students could advance only upon “mastery” of the standards, and that instruction was highly-fragmented as teachers were meant to be “guides on the side.” Ultimately it was impossible to provide the level of differentiation required by the program.

I have known for some time that CBE or “personalized” hybrid-blended learning is being incubated in south central PA. It first popped up in the Johnstown/Bedford area and now seems to be creeping over into Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg. It is being pushed by Appalachian Intermediate Unit 8. The Intermediate Unit is working in concert with the Pennsylvania Leadership Development Center. PLDC has close ties to Dusquene University via Pat Crawford (professor of education emeritus and now Director of Professional Development for the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators) and Franny Serenka Associate Professor and Director of the School Administration & Supervision Program in the School of Education. Crawford presented at Mass Customized Learning conferences in South Dakota in 2013 and in Maine in 2014.

Besides the fact that that area is a bit out of the way and less high profile than other districts, I could not figure out why south-central PA was being targeted. Now I think I have now found the link. The push for mass digital learning came when Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13111 that created the Advanced Distributed Learning program. ADL jumpstarted technology-based education for the Department of Defense and the Federal Government, but the plan was always to scale it for general use in K12 education. One of the first tasks was to create a coding system to manage the “learning objects” and that would support the “learning management systems.” That first program was called SCORM. It took until the mid 2000s to be widely adopted. Later, they wanted to expand the types of data that could be aggregated, so they transitioned to a more sophisticated and flexible software called Tin Can or xAPI. It was created by Rustici Software out of Tennessee. This slideshare goes into detail about how educational data is tracked across learning environments. The thing that made everything “click” tonight is Aaron Silvers. Silvers now works for ADL and does a lot of training for xAPI. According to his LinkedIn Profile, before coming to ADL, he was Chief Learning Officer for Problem Solutions, which is (BINGO!) based in JOHNSTOWN, PA. Problem Solutions is a MAJOR contractor to ADL and they are very much involved with the transition to “learning eco-systems.”  This is how Problem Solutions describes what they do:
“E X P E R I E N C E Learning and educational tech has been on our minds for over 15 years. Check out what we have done.
· We have built more open source ed tech projects through the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative than any other program in government
· We contribute to open source tools like the Generalized Intelligent Framework for Tutoring
· Abundant knowledge of Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)- conformant materials
· Our engineers contributed to the SCORM specs and several eLearning whitepapers (check out our research)
· We build things like Experience API (xAPI) and the Learning Registry xAPI?
· Enables tracking of learning experiences, records learners’ actions, and allows mobile training and content outside of a web browser
· Designed to support existing SCORM use cases, enable new cases, and show us the connection between learning and performance.
· Pretty cool, right?
Ed tech is radically reshaping our world through engagement of learning experiences. There is a huge opportunity to impact innovation and economic growth.”
Important post script! A Mass Customized Learning Fall Summit was held at the Lancaster Resort and Conference Center on Friday, October 21, 2016. They toured Pequea Valley schools as part of that conference.

The gift no one wanted-how digital learning came to MA & Fair Test finally woke up.


The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced yesterday, the creation of a new statewide personalized-learning initiative called MAPLE (Massachusetts Personalized Learning EdTech) Consortium. It is important to note that educational technology is specifically called out in the name. This public-private partnership is being funded by the Barr Foundation and the Nellie Mae Foundation, one of the primary advocates for Competency Based Education in New England. There are currently twelve pilot districts, but the plan is to add an additional thirty districts over time.

Updates on the program were given to Massachusetts’ Digital Learning Advisory Council in January 2016:

Digital Learning Advisory Council members for 2015-16 included representatives of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, MIT, The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, The Virtual High School, The Center for Applied Special Technology, The American Federation of Teachers, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Full member list here.

According to the Council’s September 2016 minutes, the contract for the program had been awarded to Learn Launch as of that time. Ann Koufman-Frederick, the Chief Academic Officer of Learn Launch, appears to be the project contact. She has ties to districts across the state.

Within 24 hours of MAPLE’s announcement, Fair Test came out with a cautionary post on the potential for personalized learning to lead to constant online testing. And in a bit of irony, actually cited one of Wrench In The Gears’ blog posts as a reference.

A number of education activists who were aware that the structure of the ESSA was designed to expand privatization and data-mining by giving preference and support to online digital learning reached out to Fair Test in months leading up to the passage of this bill explaining the dangers and asking them to withdraw their support of the bill (see below for examples). The response received was that it was more important to address NCLB sanctions than what might happen with Competency Based Education and performance assessing.

As Edward Snowden said in a recent interview with Katie Couric “This is the year everyone got everything wrong.”


November 1, 2015




November 30, 2015


December 1, 2015