Beyond reform: Systemic shifts towards personalized learning

Three elementary students sitting at their desks in a classroom working on laptops

“For the last 150 years, we’ve treated learning like it’s something that happens only in classrooms. At Lindsay, we believe learning should happen 24/7.”


In the search for improvements in education, many had hoped that consistent “standards” and high stakes tests were a way to close the achievement gap and ensure equity, quality teaching and learning. Increasingly, educators, policy makers and the public are becoming aware that this approach to “one size fits all” has failed, leading instead to an increase in dropouts, the decline of teacher professionalism and the trivializing of curriculum.

Aggressive shifts toward personalized learning is not only necessary, it is essential if we are to ensure that learners are empowered with the motivation, knowledge and skills to meet the demands of their preferred futures. To transform our schools and best prepare graduates for an ever changing global community, we have to place the learner in the center of all reform. Despite the often agreed upon premise that all learning should be personalized and relevant, shifting traditional, time-based systems and instructional practices to be in alignment with a personalized learning model is difficult work that few institutions have successfully approached.  Transforming a school system, a learning system, into an organization that places personalized learning at the core is very complex and multi-faceted work.

One important step in this work is to ensure that all learners are Future Ready. For the last 150 years, we’ve treated learning like it’s something that happens only in classrooms. In the Lindsay Unified School District, we believe learning should happen 24/7.  Therefore, we embarked on a community-wide initiative to provide free Internet access to all learners, anywhere, all of the time, to empower and motivate them. Lindsay wanted to provide extended learning time, but, being located in a rural setting, realized that providing learners internet access outside of school would have to be a community solution. Without this Internet access provided by the district, many families would not have access to powerful internet-based learning outside of school.

We launched a multi-year project that installed nine distribution towers across the community, and placed hundreds of hotspots on people’s homes to provide free, filtered coverage for all Lindsay Learners and parents. With appropriate access, the internet offers nearly unlimited possibilities for ensuring a customized learning experience. Videos, podcasts, tutorials, college classes, and social media are easily available. Technology is now commonly used throughout the learning community, and adults use devices to build shared curriculum, analyze data, and manage all communications and initiatives. All teaching staff participate in professional development on using the technology tools that are now essential to the advancement of learning in Lindsay. Regular community-based workshops are conducted to train parents on how to access learner records, monitor progress, and support learning.

Lindsay Unified also provides hands-on workshops for learners to develop the technology skills to access learning targets, engage with online curriculum, take assessments, and monitor personal progress.

Transforming education towards learner-centered systems is only possible with a clear future-focused vision, effective leadership, and the undying commitment of stakeholders throughout the learning community.


Lindsay’s Community Wide Access:

Community-Wide Infographic:

Community Wide Wi-Fi Video:


About the Author
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney is the superintendent of Lindsay Unified School District where he has engaged in the system-wide transformative work of building a learner-centered Performance Based System throughout the entire K-12 learning community, serving over 4,000 students from socioeconomically disadvantaged situations.  Prior to his position as Superintendent, Mr. Rooney served as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, elementary Principal, elementary Assistant Principal, and classroom teacher. Mr. Rooney is highly knowledgeable of research-based instructional practices, and is a key leader involved in work related to the development, evaluation and modification of all aspects of the Performance Based System in Lindsay Unified. He maintains a strong track record of successful and committed leadership at the site and district levels focused on serving the learners and families of the Lindsay community.  Beyond the Lindsay Unified School District, Mr. Rooney has become a nationally recognized voice for all matters related to mass customized learning, competency-based learning, and personalized learning.  Over the past three years, Mr. Rooney has provided multiple key-note addresses, webinars, and formal training sessions throughout the country on the topics of transformational leadership, performance-based learning, and systems change.  Mr. Rooney is also a certified trainer and professional coach with The Breakthrough Coach.