Personalized Learning Podcast: Episode 2 | Leap Innovations grows student engagement in Chicago, IL

Welcome to the second episode of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s Personalized Learning podcast series where we explore how different cities across the country are implementing next-generation learning. You can find the introduction to the podcast series here.


Cheryl Niehaus, Program Officer, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation


Phyllis Lockett, CEO of Leap Innovations

Amy Huang, Director, Next-Gen Expansion at Leap Innovations

Ideas explored in this episode:

Hear about the work that Leap Innovations is doing in Chicago. (1:32)

Leap Innovations bridges the gap between education and innovation for students from Pre-K through college. They focus on personalized learning design to help students learn, and their programs are designed to help teachers tailor instruction to each student’s skills, interests, and goals.

They provide the tools and support to teachers to help them better navigate this new process, and see the personalized learning process as something that can scale.

“Education should not come down to luck. Every child should have the opportunity to get the best education that they deserve.” – Phyllis Lockett

“By bringing technology into classrooms… we can help make leaps and bounds in how teachers teach and how students learn.” – Phyllis Lockett

How is Leap Innovations implementing this work? (2:46)

Leap Innovations works with highly ambitious teachers and school leaders who want to reimagine their entire school model. They are rethinking how they schedule and use teachers and redesigning the classroom experience (down to the physical classroom) for an entire school. New, innovative scheduling, spacing, and staffing models are being implemented.

“We think that all kids should be able to attend one of these next-generation school models.” – Amy Huang

“Every individual child has their individual learning path, and they’re so empowered and excited about school – it really looks like the future of learning.” – Phyllis Lockett

What is the problem they are trying to solve in Chicago? (4:45)

Chicago is losing too many students by not tailoring school to the needs and interests of students, and not taking into account their pace and where they are in their education. This model personalizes the student’s experience by empowering learners to lead and to be more engaged in their own learning. They provide the tools and support to teachers to help them better navigate this new process, and see the personalized learning process as something that can scale.

“Personalized learning helps teachers do more small-group teaching, where they’re able to help them on high-level learning skills like critical thinking and writing.” – Amy Huang

“This current framework of how we’ve been delivering education has to be maximized for every student.” – Phyllis Lockett

How do teachers and students benefit? (7:23)

Educators are given tools they haven’t had before, that help them pinpoint where each student is on any given day, as well as direct and navigate that student’s learning experience. The teachers feel they are getting a level of support and resources that they haven’t had before. The students are finding a new passion for learning because the tailored learning experiences are set to their individual pace and in a way that most excites them.

“Teachers and students will be the primary benefactors of this new approach.” – Phyllis Lockett

What’s happened so far with their work with implementing personalized learning? (9:44)

They started with eleven schools, six of which have full-development planning grants and are on track to receive implementation grants in the spring. By fall of 2015, they will roll out six next-generation schools in Chicago.

What they’re hoping to achieve and how. (10:15)

Leap Innovations’ goal is to get every student and teacher actively involved in personalized learning and to advance education in their city. They want to eradicate the skills gap and prepare their students for 21st century careers. The work they’re doing with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) has been a catalyst for the personalized learning transformation in Chicago. They’re building capacity for educators, researching what works via piloting, and working with whole school models to advance change.

“Personalized learning is the way to bridge the [skills] gap.” – Phyllis Lockett

What makes the work in Chicago unique and different from other cities also doing this work? (13:14)

Chicago is a microcosm of the United States and they are using that to leverage their learning diversity across public, charter, and Catholic schools to pilot and advance personalized learning solutions. The tech sector in Chicago is very collaborative and has shown great willingness to focus on education and innovation.

“We’re taking all the learnings from our first cohort and the other regions doing this work to make our second cohort bigger and better.” – Amy Huang

“It’s so important to get the brightest innovators to participate in innovating education.” – Phyllis Lockett

Advice Phyllis and Amy would give to anyone thinking about doing this work or just starting out. (15:25)

Having high expectations and a willingness to push hard can help carry through resistance. The payoff is the positive responses we get from educators, who have been waiting for help, and students, who start excelling. They recommend to collaborate with Leap Innovations or other incubators in other regions, because when everyone works together, they all succeed.

 “Jump in!” – Phyllis Lockett

Let’s Chat

Do you agree with their perspective on education today and the benefits of personalized learning? Tell us your thoughts below.


Read more about our work with the Next Generation Learning Challenge:

Introductory post: Kristi DePaul: Personalized learning- One size does NOT fit all

Episode 1: CityBridge Foundation rethinks education in Washington, D.C.

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