One of the new buzz words in our district is blended learning. Within this new way of learning, the term self-paced learning popped up. There are two different types of self-paced learning. One occurs within the brick and mortar type of school, and the other one could be anywhere the student chooses to be located.
Self-paced Learning Outside of the School Setting
Self-Paced learning outside the classroom means a student can start and complete learning targets at any time. The proficiency-based model will allow students to have a schedule that meets their individual needs. Students will not have to wait for the beginning of a traditional semester to start work on learning targets. They can complete their learning in any setting, at home, on the road, or anyplace that has internet connections. There are advantages and disadvantages to Self-Paced learning programs that happen outside a traditional classroom setting.
There are many students how might benefit from learning that happens outside a regular classroom. First, learners have the opportunity to learn in their home or a familiar environment. When they are in a familiar environment, the student is more relaxed and can concentrate on their learning. Learning can also progress at a pace that suits the learner. Learners who work at a fast pace have the opportunity to gain competency quickly. Learners who learn at a slower pace have the opportunity for repetition without being pushed ahead to quickly. See: Jonathan G. Tullis and Aaron S. Benjamin completed a study on the effectiveness of self-paced learning. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079256/
There are also disadvantages to Self-Paced learning programs that happen outside the traditional classroom. Learners who lack time management skills can fall behind easily. If the student is not self-motivated this type of program might be difficult for them. Next, students who need opportunities for collaborative learning are at a disadvantage because when the student is outside the classroom they are working independently. Finally, not all learners cope well working externally through their self-paced materials. For example, learners with English as a second language (or special literacy/numeracy requirements) may struggle and therefore need face to face assistance from a classroom teacher. Here is quiz students can take to see if Self-Paced learning outside the classroom is right for them.
Self-paced Learning within the School Setting
Many schools are opting to use a blended learning model that can incorporate self-paced learning inside their classrooms. To accomplish this, some teachers are filming their lectures in short segments and either posting them on the internet, or making them available on jump drives and laptop computers.
There are many advantages to teaching this way. Self-pacing in the classroom allows students to view the material as many times as they need to understand the assignments. Then students can be grouped as needed to review, remediate or accelerate the learning. Teachers, like Katie Gimbar, a middle school teacher in Pennsylvania, move to a facilitator role and is able to work students one-on-one and help students with misunderstandings or challenge students as the need arises.
Students who benefit the most from this type of self-paced learning are the top students and the lowest students. In a traditional setting, teachers tend to gear their instruction to the middle third of their class. Students at the extremes of the spectrum are typically either bored or lost. However, students in the middle can easily be accommodated in a self-paced classroom.
It is possible for students to excel in a self-paced environment, whether it is in the traditional brick-and-mortar setting, or a coffee shop around the corner, as long as the student is well supported by the teachers and other adults around them.