Foundation of Learning – the importance of choice

Upon viewing Richard Cullata’s TedX talk on Reimagining Learning, I was inspired by his statements concerning the ability of technology to change learning.  Instead of treating all students the same, despite their unique needs, challenges, and interests, teachers today, via technology tools, have the ability to personalize learning.  This means that learning can involve real-time feedback, adjustable pace, meaningful experiences, and agency.

Impressed by the significance of personalized learning, I decided to research this topic further.  After searching the MSU library databases, I found two articles, one summarizing the effects of agency in early grade education, and one describing the findings of case studies of makerspaces, which support Cullata’s statements concerning the importance of personalization in the learning process, and hold application for the maker movement in education.


The power of choice

In Agency and Expanding Capabilities in Early Grade Classrooms, Jennifer Keys Adair used specific classroom examples to support her findings that student agency in early grade classrooms promotes learning for all students. According to Adair (2014), agency is the ability to “influence and make decisions about what and how something is learned in order to expand capabilities” (p. 219).  Adair noted the learning that occurred when first grade students were able to choose topics of interest, plan the learning timeline, and present findings in meaningful ways.  In contrast to many early grade classrooms, which focus on preparing students for high stakes testing, classrooms commended by Adair (2014) “make a strong case of young children having access to agency in early schooling contexts” (p. 223).  The benefits of such learning environments, in addition to developmental appropriateness, creates students who, according to Adair (2014) know “how to demonstrate knowledge, organize their thoughts, reflect on their learning, and reanalyze previously held beliefs or hypotheses” (p. 229).  Such students have expanded capabilities.

So many options...

So many options…

The second article read for this assignment, Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces addressed the similarities and differences in how these makerspaces operated as learning environments.  While this article did not specifically reference agency or personalization of learning, each of the makerspaces and the activities within them supported Cullata’s statements concerning the importance of choice, background and personal interest in learning environments.  In this article, makerspaces were first defined by Sheridan, et al. (2014) as “informal sites for creative production in art, science, and engineering where people of all ages blend digital and physical technologies to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products” (p. 505). The three spaces studied included a member-based space called Sector67, a community space predominantly for youth called Mt. Elliott Makerspace, and a museum makerspace in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.  All three had collaborative projects, ability of participants to choose activities and materials, and multiple ways for makers to learn skills.  They differed in their constituency.

For example, personalization of learning was a hallmark of Studio67’s flexible format in which equipment purchases and spatial arrangement was customized to project and participant needs (Sheridan et al., 2014).  Moreover, Sheridan, et al. (2014) noted that “There is a flexible structure to how work, learning and teaching happen on individual and shared projects, with roles shifting” (p. 513).

The findings of Sheridan, et al. (2014) reminded me of O’Donnell’s chapter on Constructivism (O’Donnell, 2012).  In each of the three makerspaces, participants were constructing projects within community using knowledge in meaningful ways.  These makerspaces allowed participants to learn as a novice, or share knowledge gained as an expert. In many cases, as described by Sheridan, et al. (2014) members of the makerspace entered as novices and quickly learned to share their knowledge with others.

Both of these articles support Cullata’s perspectives on the importance of personalized learning.  Adair demonstrated how more than content learning was acquired when students had the ability to choose their topic, timeline and project.  The research of Sheridan, et al. revealed how the concept of choice was intrinsic to the makerspaces studied and contributed to the success of the learning and movement.

As I consider how making can fit into elementary library curriculum, I am learning that personalization, agency, and student choice are essential elements to learning.  Building on O’Donnell’s description of dialectical constructivism, library makerspaces can allow for modeling, coaching, scaffolding, reflecting, articulating and exploring (O’Donnell, 2012), in addition to supporting student choice.


 Adair, J. K. (2014). Agency and expanding capabilities in early grade classrooms:  What it could mean for young children. Harvard Educational Review, 84(2), 217-242,278. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Sheridan, K. M., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B. K., Brahms, L. Jacobs-Priebe, L., Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-531,563-565. Retrieved from

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