The Windsor Historical Society did a great job of restoring the Somerville Schoolhouse. As you tour the building located on the Windsor Fairgrounds, you step back in time. Leatherbound books, desks neatly in rows, slate boards and chalk lying on those desks anticipating eager students to learn new things about their world.

Education is administered to students today the same as it was to the students in that one-room schoolhouse back in the day. Today’s education is formed on tradition, not practicality. It’s time for a change.

What today’s student experiences in the classroom began in 1892 when the National Educational Association’s Committee of Ten concluded, “(We) unanimously declare that every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil as long as he pursue it.”

In 1892, it was not mandated for children to attend school. But, as long as they did attend school they were all to be taught the same subject in the same way for the same period of time.

This approach to education made sense since 1892 saw the Industrial Revolution in full swing. Families were leaving the farms and finding jobs at the mills. Also, immigrant families began to dot the landscape, not just in Maine but also across the fruited plain. Education needed a blanket approach then, but now, as long as the electricity stays on, the Committee of Ten approach is obsolete.

With advances in technology alone, education could be modified to adapt to the students’ changing world. It has not, but it needs to be.

The Maine Department of Education recognizes this and has put into its policy the language “learner-centered instruction,” putting the student’s understanding of the subject ahead of just covering a subject because the grade level requires it, no matter whether the student learns anything or not. Enter mass customized learning, or MCL.

MCL is being touted as the teaching method to bring about the learner-centered instruction. It allows the student and teacher to form a relationship that is specific to the student’s learning needs.

This is where it gets confusing. MCL seems to be a new way of teaching, but it isn’t. Bea McGarvey, Maine’s resident MCL advocate, illustrates, “MCL has been around for as long as a teacher has adapted their teaching to fit the needs of a student.” Even back in 1892, teachers adjusted their craft to reach their students in an effective way. They wanted to make a connection with their students personally then as they do today. The problem was, and still is, that the teacher has only a short period of time to make that connection, teach the subject, test the subject, and move on.

What makes MCL different from the Committee of Ten’s approach is the removal of time-based learning. The teacher effectively presents the subject at the speed the student can master it, not because a specific grade level requires it.

It is possible some students will learn quickly with MCL and others may take a few years to learn the same material. Obviously, the teacher would be under an enormous amount of stress to come up with an individualized program for each student and then perform each program to everyone’s satisfaction.

Technology makes MCL possible. The teacher can be more of a coach, giving guidance instead of a lecture, in a classroom immersed in technology. Teachers no longer have to be expert in every subject they teach. Teachers also can tailor the teaching experience to the interests of the student, something the Committee of Ten discouraged.

Mass customized learning, however, does present a challenge. It is a different way of thinking, and it’s often difficult for a parent to understand at first. Being a parent of students taught using MCL, I at first thought it to be a ship without a rudder. My children’s experience not only seemed to resemble the ship without a way to steer but also no way to chart and navigate the course of mastering any subject.

This paradigm changed when I saw my children begin to improve with MCL, after treading water with the traditional approach.

The antique approach of time-based teaching by grade levels is obsolete. Technology enables the teacher to offer a more quality learning experience for the student. Mass customized learning will work.

Dale Fegel Jr. of China is parent to three students in Regional School Union 18 (Messalonskee and China schools), which offers a mass customized learning environment. He also is a political blogger at campaignman.blogspot.com and has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter, @dalefegeljr.

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