What does it take to develop and implement successful Individualized Learning Plans?

by Joel R. Malin and Heather L. Fox / Oct 15, 2013

Insights from a Successful Scholar in the Field

On behalf of the Pathways Resource Center, we recently interviewed Dr. Allen Phelps, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a respected scholar who has studied the implementation of Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs).  ILPs are powerful, student-directed planning and monitoring tools that incorporate a variety of individual-specific information (e.g., interests, skills, and needs) into the development of thoughtful programs of study (e.g., see the Rhode Island Department of Education’s ILP Framework).  We are eager to share a few key takeaways; each is geared toward school officials who are, or will be, implementing ILPs at the middle- or high-school levels.

The Value of Team Data Study

Dr. Phelps emphasized the initial and sustained value of team data study:  Let’s say, for example, you are a school leader wishing to pinpoint areas of student need and/or prioritize areas for school improvement.  Dr. Phelps recommends you begin by studying important student outcomes (e.g., graduation or class enrollment rates), disaggregated by subgroup.  If inequities and underachievement are noticeable, ILPs should be considered as a remedy:  They offer terrific potential to produce more focused, engaged learners.

Photo: Dr. Allen Phelps

ILP Development and Implementation

Now, perhaps your team is ready to pursue ILP development and implementation.   Likewise, data should be near and dear to you!  First, Dr. Phelps advises: “Define what you mean by ILP.”  Clarity and specificity are essential, since ILPs contain multiple elements and could take a variety of forms.  To learn more, we recommend this terrific ILP resource developed by the Rhode Island Department of Education.  It describes essential elements within academic, career, personal/social, and transition domains.  Within the personal/social domain, for instance, ILPs should minimally document the following features:  “exploring interests and activities, addressing needs, setting goals, [and] continually reflecting upon decisions that will determine life actions.”

Next, team members should define and plan to track important student outcomes and goals, and further delineate what ILP implementation will entail for students, staff, and even parents and community members. You have established a foundation for ILP delivery and a vehicle for reflection and re-design over time.

ILPs and Equity

Related, Dr. Phelps highlighted the importance of considering ILPs from the standpoint of equity from the get-go.  He stated, “Whatever we do in education will have to be equitable.”  For example, we must consider how we will accommodate student learning or assessment conditions for some students, and how our ILP processes impact achievement and success of students in all subgroups.

Contributing to the ILP Knowledge Base

Systematic data collection and reporting, in tandem with ILP implementation, will contribute greatly to the knowledge base surrounding ILPs.  At this time, noted Dr. Phelps, this base is relatively thin.  Thus, it is especially important to track “implementation and what it produces.”  School leaders who are, or will be, implementing ILPs could seize the leading edge by acquiring and sharing this type of knowledge.  Leaders will be positioned to say, “We implemented this, and here’s what we got.”  In fact, Dr. Phelps presented a broad and exciting vision for educational improvement, sparked by just such “wide open dialogues” that lead to better “social and economic outcomes.”  We agree!

With this in mind, our Pathways Resource Center is looking to identify exemplary practice, to aid in this knowledge dissemination.  Additionally, we are in the process of identifying/sharing sample plans and we are creating a guide for implementing Individualized Learning Plans.  As such, we are grateful to Dr. Phelps for sharing his insights. We hope that you have found them to be as useful—even inspirational—as we have!

Joel R. Malin is a curriculum specialist at the Pathways Resource Center. He is passionate about creating pathways to future college and career success for all students.  He sees ILP’s as a terrific vehicle for engaging learners, and is grateful to have the opportunity to partner with Illinois Learning Exchanges and to assist Illinois Race to the Top school districts as they develop and implement these plans.

Heather L. Fox is the Program Coordinator for Pathways Resource Center at OCCRL.  Heather is passionate about supporting P-14 districts efforts to provide students with equitable and high quality Programs of Study, and their efforts to help students of all ages to identify and pursue their career aspirations.