The idea of a more personalized approach to education has gained a lot of traction in the last decade. But there’s a lot of variation among those claiming “personalization.” Some are teacher-driven and prescriptive. In others, students are active in charting their course.
Jeff Sandefer, cofounder of Acton Academy, would like to propose a new category: learner-driven communities. This new category, suggests Sandefer, features “extreme agency.”
Acton Academy (featured here) is a small K-12 private school in Austin with an audacious claim: “Each person who enters our doors will find a calling that will change the world.”
“At Acton we are seeing amazing leaps and effectiveness that I believe come more from agency than size or personalization,” said Sandefer.
The small school has spawned a global network with 91 affiliates in 28 states and provinces and 20 countries.
Replication is a lightweight franchising approach where “owners” pay a small fee to join the network and use the Acton brand. Almost all owners have students in the school. They agree to a common set of practices, keep a high “Net Promoter Score” (customer satisfaction scores) on published surveys and they all install Nest cameras that create a network-wide view of what’s happening in Acton schools.
Learner-Driven as a Core Motivational Theory
The core promise at Acton is that each student will “Begin a Hero’s Journey.” Through real-life challenges, “Our young people at Acton are learning that courage, grit, and perseverance matter far more than regurgitating facts,” said Sandefer.
“One of the keys to a learner-driven community is being willing to call on all sorts of ways of motivating individual heroes, squads and the tribe,” (i.e., learners, teams, school) said Sandefer.
Below is a chart that summarizes much of management theory for the last 100 years:
The following chart shows how Acton applies the theories with tools and incentives:
The Acton goal, according to Sandefer, “is to ramp up motivation, amplified by constraints in the same way a river accelerates as it reaches a bottleneck, maximizing the learning, reflection, celebration or recharging in every moment.” Below is an infographic of the time in hours spent by badge/area/activity in Acton’s middle school. For scale purposes, one salmon colored Quest badge (upper left) is approximately 40 hours.