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Aurora Institute

Doing It Yourself: From Independent Learning Plans to Organizing Your Instructional Path

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field, Activate Student Agency


This post originally appeared at Getting Smart and the Huffington Post on March 4, 2015.

Student agency changes the nature of the educational process. As students build their habits of learning, they can take on more and more responsibility of their own education. The more experiences they have in managing their education, the more opportunities they have to strengthen their skills in time management, project management, pacing management, and executing with professionalism. At it’s very core, this is what GenDIY is all about—students taking responsibility and ownership of their journey to a career of their choosing.

In many of the competency-based schools across the country, educators are creating opportunities for students to co-create or co-design their education. At Chugach School District in Alaska, all students have the opportunity to create Independent Learning Plans (ILPs). The ILP is a structured opportunity for students to build or apply skills outside of school. It’s a chance to focus on high interest contexts or inquiries. And, it’s a chance to learn the skills they will need in college as self-directed, independent learners.

Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) is deeply serious about students developing the maturity, motivation, and skills to manage their own learning. It starts with helping students mature by creating opportunities for them to understand themselves as learners—how they learn and what it means to be an effective learner. Whereas discussions in most schools emphasize academics, MC2 starts with how students learn, focusing on motivation, maturity (demonstrating the habits of mind and being), and metacognition. Academic learning is a natural by-product.

MC2 also invests in lots and lots and lots of different types of learning opportunities, most of which have some element of co-designing the experience. There are studios and internships, Treks (field experiences designed to engage a sense of curiosity and wonder), portfolios, and presentations. Using a process of “negotiated release,” MC2 provides students with more opportunities for independent learning. (You can read more about the MC2  approach here.)

Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is taking this to an entirely new level of DIY construction of one’s education. They are in the process of expanding their online learning experiences to include projects, extended learning in the community, and college-level courses. The goal is to create a shopping experience in which students can decide how they want to learn the next set of academic standards: through a course, project, or creating an independent project. Although many of the choices will be pre-designed, students will be encouraged to think about how they want to construct their education, both now and in the future.

Chugach, MC2, and VLACS are three examples of schools that create environments that empower students to figure out the passion that drives them, and what they need to know and be able to do to begin a career in what they love. Competency-based models enable educators to create opportunities for students to co-create, co-design, and own their education. It’s the grit that’s gathered, sense of wonder that’s generated, and work ethic that instilled in competency-based learning experiences where students graduate into GenDIY.