Rich McKinney

Leaving Behind the Golden Era of Instructional “Broadcasting”

During the 1950s, the golden era of television allowed marketers to broadcast commercials to large audiences. While the big three networks had different programming, little differentiation existed in the marketing; all viewers were exposed to the same products via the same message. In 1994, I was an advertising major and I remember one of my professors claiming that this model was rapidly drawing to a close and would soon be replaced by narrowcasting. We were told that narrowcasting would allow marketers to target specific audiences with a tailored message that was unique to their interests and needs. The only obstacles that remained were data collection and management systems to better identify specific target audiences and subsequently, cost-effective delivery methods to reach them. Within three years, the Internet boom began to eradicate each of those obstacles and narrowcasting became the norm in business. Interestingly enough, the evolution of narrowcasting messages has not only been confined to marketing products, but has also played a large role in the outcomes of recent presidential elections. Today, the basic tenets of narrowcasting are being utilized in schools to make learning more personal.

Blended learning, a strategy that builds upon those basic elements of narrowcasting, is helping many teachers in creating personalized learning environments (PLE) for their students. These PLEs allow students to take control of their own learning when teachers offer students data-based academic feedback on specific levels of proficiency, assistance in setting realistic and personal learning goals that range from the next unit of study to college and career aspirations, and instruction on the technology tools necessary for learning. Blended learning interactions between teachers and students can be either face-to-face or online. This model of learning is vastly different from the "broadcast" approach of one teacher using one textbook to deliver the same content to an entire class of students.

The potential benefits of this shift in terms of student outcomes are tremendous. By taking control of their learning, students will be more engaged and motivated. But an even greater opportunity exists with the incorporation of both connectivism and constructivism in a blended learning environment, as students are positioned to develop 21st century thinking and communicating skills.

But there are obstacles. Teachers need access to quality data, relevant technology, and professional development to fully maximize the potential of the PLE model. Initially, not every teacher will have equal access to technology and professional development. However, the sheer number of standardized tests administered in recent years equips teachers with a vast amount of data to inform the instructional approach with each individual student.

Many teachers are already taking advantage of the resources they do have and students are benefiting. A teacher in my building maximizes data to make learning more personal by challenging students with goal-setting and self-monitoring objectives. Students in Ms. Street's class analyze and chart data from all assessments, whether statewide or classroom-based. Students are taught how to analyze their own data, identify trends to be reinforced or refined, and use this data to create SMART goals for themselves. Throughout the year, students engage in a continual cycle of evaluating progress towards their SMART goals and subsequently make targeted adjustments when necessary.

As we push to prepare students for college and career readiness, the personalized approach is a nonnegotiable, regardless of what resources teachers have at their disposal. Students who are taught to take the initiative in their own learning, set measurable goals for self-improvement, monitor their progress, and make adjustments will be ready to succeed in life after high school.

Rich McKinney, PhD, is an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the 2012 Outstanding Social Studies Teacher for the state of Tennessee. His passion is improving student outcomes by helping teachers reach their fullest potential. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he also serves as a professional development specialist for Knox County Schools and a Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Connect with McKinney by e-mail at or on Twitter @richmckinney1.

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