Conference Masses Turn Out for Look at Mass Customized Learning

 Julie Mathiesen, Thought Leader
                   Julie Mathiesen
by Rebecca Salon

What if every day, every learner is met with learning activities that meet his or her readiness level, that accommodate personal learning styles and that contain content of personal interest — and that challenge every learner and make all eager to return to school tomorrow?

That is Julie Mathiesen’s vision of customized learning.

Her message to the large audience Saturday at her Thought Leader session was this: “People are saying a lot about what we need to change in education but not what we need to do; we need to eliminate those weight-bearing walls to change the structure of what we’re doing — and that will take bold courageous leadership.”

The weight-bearing walls, according to Mathiesen, who direct Technology & Innovation in Education, include things like textbooks that stop educators and students from accessing the nearly unlimited content from anywhere and that can directly fit learners’ needs and interests; the ABC grading systems for student evaluation, which prevents each student from creating a portfolio to document learning achievements and mastery of content; grade levels; and fixed courses and curricula, rather than defining common core standards within flexible learning systems.

In her hour-long conference session in Houston, Mathiesen defined mass customization, seemingly an oxymoron, in two ways. In industry, she noted, it is the capacity to routinely customize products and services to meet the specific needs and/or desires of individuals without adding significantly to the cost of the product or services.

In learning, she explained, mass customization identifies important content and skills to be learned for successful adult living and continued learning; determines how those things are best learned; and designs customized learning experiences without space, time and other constraints.

She then dazzled the audience with demonstrations of customizable teaching tools and content, using iTunesU, onto which some states have uploaded their curricular content; WolframAlpha , a computational knowledge engine on a broad variety of topics; Khanacademy, which lets teachers “outsource” some of their more straightforward teaching so that teachers can focus on what they do best; Ck-12, which offers free textbooks on-line that are editable, allowing schools to add their common core standards; Google earth, with free accessible technology that can be used for interactive research; and an example of a 3D museum visit.

Mathiesen provided compelling examples of how things are customized for people now (e.g., 87,000 drink possibilities at Starbucks; recommending books based on your past purchases; videogames that customize to your skill level), coupled with current research on motivation and learning.

Among her recommendations on learning is the book inevitable: Mass Customized Learning, Learning in the Age of Empowerment by Schwahn and McGarvey. She is collaborating with these authors on a fieldbook of resources to support educational leaders in implementing customized learning.

Mathiesen, whose multi-media presentation was packed with resources, videoclips and links to teach about mass customized learning, has posted her entire presentation at and For related resources on customized learning, visit and