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child in winterOne winter, I bought a set of gloves at a large retail store. I was on the way to a winter camp with a group of Scouts and was in a hurry. I tried on the left-hand glove in the store, and it fit OK, so I bought the pair and headed to the nearby canyon.

When we arrived, the temperature outside was 12 degrees Fahrenheit. I  zipped on my coat and confidently pulled out the new gloves. The left one went on without any trouble. But when I tried to put on the glove for my right hand, it just didn’t fit. Either the glove was cut and sewn wrong or my hand is seriously misshapen. Either way, the glove didn’t fit right. Before the one-night camp was over, the seam along the palm of the glove had begun to tear open. Luckily, over the next few hours the temperature rose to 24 degrees, so I didn’t lose my hand to frostbite.

One problem with most products that are mass produced and sold to a large customer base is that—at least for many products—one size does not fit all.

This principle is especially true for learning and educational products. It is possible to derive educational principles and processes that may apply in many, most, or all circumstances. But it is much more difficult to invent a specific curriculum that fits the needs of all students. A curriculum tailored for the needs of a student in urban Washington, D.C., may not meet the needs of a student in rural Montana. A teaching plan developed for a class of 30 students may not help the student most advanced in the subject nor the student who is least advanced in the subject.

Rather than centrally producing a curriculum that fits no one very well, it may better to find a way to allow learning that is flexible and adaptable so that it can be adjusted to meet the interests and needs of each student in his or her environment.

That’s a difficult task for a curriculum developer. How can you meet the needs of hundreds or even thousands or millions of individuals who have circumstances that you do not know nor may ever be able to imagine? It’s hard to do if all the curriculum has to be created centrally.

But what if it doesn’t? What if each learner helps create the content, the focus, the emphasis of his or her own learning? What if each learner has a mentor who helps and guides and suggests to enrich that personal and customizable learning experience? What if each learner also helps mentor others, so that everyone can learn from everyone else?

What if each new, individualized curriculum were made available to other learners to share good ideas, to foster additional learning, to spark inspiration?

The result would be a much more engaging and agile learning process. The result would be learners who know how to learn and who enjoy learning. The result would be a more flexible, agile, and competitive workforce that would more effectively meet the challenges of the dynamic new world that we find ourselves in.