College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

A User Guide to Me: How Individual Learning Plans Power Personalization

By Tom Vander Ark — January 18, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Some Google employees maintain an electronic form called A User Guide to Me. It includes information about strengths, preferences, and tips for working
together. Here’s an outline of one guide:

About Me

What I think I’m good at

  • A few things you’re good at and working on

I’m told that I’m good at

  • Recognized leadership and skills

My least favorite things

  • The stuff I’d rather not do

Good ways to work with me

  • How I like to communicate and work together

  • How much information I need to make a decision

  • How I work on deadlines

I can always help with

  • How and where I can help

You know me well

  • Anonymous feedback form

In a project-based world where teams are
forming and storming every few weeks the User’s Guide appears to be a great tool organizations can encourage teams to use to improve communication and
collaboration. It also appears to be a useful addition to a high school individual learning plan.

Individual Learning Plans. A recent study indicates that 29 states and the
District of Columbia mandate Individual Learning Plans (ILP) and 44% of surveyed high school counselors in states that do not require using ILP report
using them in their schools.

ILPs are usually initiated in 8th or 9th grade. While almost every state requires schools to help students develop an academic plan only a third help
students consider on strengths and weaknesses or build a resume. Only 10 states ask students to reflect on how they learn and refer them to support

Learning differences. An individual learning plan starts with reflections on learning. This is particularly important for youth with learning differences.

The Parents Education Network in San Francisco supports Student Advisors for Education (SAFE), “a student community that strives to educate,
mentor, and support students, parents and teachers regarding the challenges and strengths of students with learning and attention differences.”

SAFE is a group of teenagers passionate about learning differences and developing their own agency to advocate for themselves as learners. When the SAFE
group spoke at Google in 2015, several students said they had letters about themselves they give to teachers when they start a new school year. That sounds
like a great application of the User Guide concept and a useful addition to Individual Learning Plans.

How this should all work. Here’s how the User Guide and ILP fit into a system of personalized learning:

  1. Every student should have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) or what NGLC calls a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP).

  2. An ILP should include a reflection on collaboration preferences and learning differences (like the “About Me” of User Guide). There are plenty of
    student resources available. For example, the Naviance college and career readiness platform offers a series of student self-discovery assessments such as Do What You Are (similar
    to Myers Briggs), StrengthsExplorer
    (Gallup student version of StrengthsFinder), and learning styles inventories.

  3. Every secondary (grade 6-12) student should have an advisor that is the co-owner of the ILP that they meet with several times each week.

  4. Nobody is average
    , everybody deserves personalized learning. Learners should have some control over pace, path, and the product of learning.

  5. States should expand fields tracked in electronic student records (i.e., Data Backpacks) that follow students grade to
    grade and school to school.

  6. Schools should capture a comprehensive Learner Profile that incorporates
    the ILP, the Data Backpack, and a lot more formative feedback. Parents should have the ability to share portions of the profile with multiple

  7. Students should build a digital portfolio of personal
    bests--work product and reflections on their ILP.

For more see:

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.