Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Project Management Tools for Personalized Learning


When managing the complexity of personalized learning, it is critical to have the right tools in the toolbox. Most schools use some sort of Learning Management System (LMS) to handle the day-to-day operations of the school. Attendance, school communication, assignments and assessments are all handled in LMS's. And some, like Edmodo, Canvas and Schoology, offer a highly powerful and intuitive environment. They create enormous engagement and efficiencies. These platforms are so compelling that they are a big part of the rapid growth of Education Technology.

But here's the problem....


Some of these LMS's are incredible tools for building communication and collaboration. They provide highly intuitive, and even fun, ways to build participation. But at the core of almost all LMS's is a simple assumption that STUDENTS ARE IN CLASSES! Most LMS's have, at their core, a traditional grade and attendance matrix. Students down the left side and assignments or school days across the top. 

Wait, what's the problem?


Traditional LMS - Rows and columns at the core!
The problem is that when you have students in rows and assignments in columns, the tool begins to drive practice! Let's face it - Teacher, student and parent expectations about where to find their academic progress often comes from the LMS. This is great and awesome in a school model where students have uniformity in the courses that they learn, the assignments that they complete and the timing and sequence of the content. For traditional schools,
this works great. But if we want your school to commit to personalized learning we have got to stop letting the tool dictate the practice. We need to get our kids out of rows and columns, in both the physical sense of the school, as well as in the online school environment. If we want our school to be a place of personalized learning, everything must change. The role of the teacher must change, the expectations of parents must change, the role of students must change - the look of the physical campus must change. And, the online tools and environment must change.

But this is not a new problem. Perhaps we are just searching for answers in all the wrong places?


The modern workplace long ago shed timecards and production lines for creative work build on personalized deliverable s and due dates. Today there are a suite of Project Management tools available to allow professionals to organize their work and communicate about expectations. Perhaps we should be looking to these tools as the hub of student learning?

The following tools offering some compelling functionality that enables both personalized learning, and fluency with tech tools that future employers will love to see. All of these project management tools allow students to organize complex project work, to give advisors an overview of how students are doing on their work, collaboration tools, and full cloud and mobile access. Here are three... but there are many more project management tools out there. And I believe all of them are better than an LMS for student-driven, personalized learning.






Trello is quickly gaining steam as the goto project management tool for education. The reason is simple - it's interface looks and feels like social apps that students and teachers are used to. Yup, it looks like Pinterest.

I have seen Trello used with great success in a Big Picture Advisory. At The Met Sacramento, Chris Chu's Junior advisory uses Trello for all project work. It enables the students and Chris to intuitively track and update project work. Students love the interface and use it as an online portfolio - storing all of their work evidence and displaying the Trello boards as the focal point for exhibitions.

The students I have talked with love how Trello is a mobile app. They can quickly check the status of their projects and due dates anywhere. Oh yeah, most of what you will need from Trello is free!

And here is a cool post about a 5th grade teacher that is using Trello to build engagement!







Truth be told, I have been using Asana to manage my workload for about a year now and love it. Actually, I am pretty certain my professional life would be unmanageable without it. Asana has a great interface and offers really powerful dashboards for advisors to quickly get a birds eye view on student progress. And where Asana really stands out is in it's focus on communication. Asana essentially moves all communication about project work out of the endless stream of emails in your inbox and attaches communication directly to project work and tasks.  The mobile app is great, like Trello it syncs with Google Drive for quickly adding work evidence. It is also free for students to create accounts and for you go invite as many people as you want into your "workspace". They also have the willingness to chat with you about school team pricing.






Wrike is a lot like Asana. It is actually one of the early entrants into the Project Management App world. Where Trello is super intuitive and has a focus on visuals, Wrike is at the other end with a big focus on reporting. Students can build incredible Gantt Charts and advisors can quickly see lots of data on how students are keeping up on their project work. I particularly like how they have used doughnut charts to show what percentage of a students project work is completed, on track or behind schedule. Wrike has very similar functionality with Asana in terms of collaboration and communication. Wrike is only free for 5 users, making it harder to adopt as a classroom.


Now all of these project management tools are missing one thing that you find in an LMS - assessment tracking. It is difficult to use any of these tools to track how students are progressing toward the completion of competencies. While this process can be housed somewhere else (like a good old spreadsheet), if you need assessment to be built into project tracking, check out Project Foundry. They have been hard at work rebuilding the whole idea of a LMS. They are the only company I have found thus far that has really built a platform for learning around the processes of project management. 

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