Personalized Gifted Education in Every Parent's Pocket:
mLearning Is Here

By Cathy Risberg, M.A.

January, 2012


We all know how assistive technology can help twice-exceptional children reach their potential. One technology many parents fail to consider as they personalize their child’s gifted education is that of mobile learning devices. Leveraging technology to promote self-direction and self-reliance can help advance potential and transform our homes and classrooms into 21st Century learning environments. Mobile technology — mLearning — is one way to do that.

mLearning: Definition, Barriers and Benefits

As it’s generally defined, mLearning involves learning across contexts that include the school, home, and museums. It’s a means of learning with mobile devices while on the go 24/7 in our very mobile society.

In 2001, I took part in an early adoption of emerging mobile technology. A parent, a university professor, and I collaborated to write and implement a Palm Education Pioneer grant for mobile technology in my third-grade classroom at Quest Academy, a school for gifted children in Palatine, Illinois. That experience, along with current studies and my first-hand experience with mobile technology, has shown me the importance of examining both the barriers to and benefits of using mobile learning devices at home and at school.

An online blogger for The Training Journal, Martin Addison, has identified these barriers for mobile technology use:

  • Lack of relevant, non-linear, and engaging content
  • Screen size
  • Organizational culture
  • Lack of user sophistication
  • Assessment.

Among the commonly mentioned benefits of mobile technology are its:

  • Cost effectiveness
  • Conduciveness to enabling or building and sustaining a one-to-one computer program
  • Ability to meet students where they are in their lives outside the classroom, through texting, gaming, and social networking
  • Role as a connector of learners.

Advancing Potential by Personalizing Learning

Research demonstrates that putting the child in the middle of the learning equation results in a dramatic increase in motivation. It is this sense of motivation that moves the child closer to reaching his or her potential as a learner. In my consulting I use the definition of potential provided by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. According to Dweck, who focuses on the research behind a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset, potential is “the capacity to develop skills over time with effort.” This definition is a particularly helpful one for parents to consider and teach to their children.

One example of personalized learning comes from New York City’s School of One. There, according to Joel Rose, the founder of the School of One’s math program, “a learner’s needs, abilities, aptitudes, motivations, interests, skill levels, and most successful learning situations combine to provide a 360-degree view that reveals his or her best pathway for success.”

Most parents would face challenges in finding a school that could provide such a tailor-made gifted program for each child, a program similar to what the School of One offers as part of its established policy. To address that challenge, parents can learn as much as possible about developing their own home-based program of personalized learning.

Here is what I see as the essential mindset and core strategies needed to create a personalized learning environment at home and at school:

  • Remember to be supportive, calm, and focused on your relationship with the child.
  • Ask the learner: What is it that interests you?
  • Take a child-centric view, focused on hopes and dreams.
  • Demonstrate a flexible approach that targets the child’s strengths.
  • Accept differences and remove obstacles.
  • Consider the child’s interests, learning styles, and performance preferences.
  • Understand that kids learn with all their senses.
  • Link formal and informal learning.
  • Use distributed resources, blended learning, and learning across life settings.
  • Include on-going or periodic assessments that include reflection as well as portfolios in various formats.
  • Make use of technology-based tools.
  • Incorporate a sense of play and fun.

21st Century Skills: Gifted Curriculum of the Home

Parents need a specific and manageable curriculum framework to structure the personalized gifted home-based program. The framework I suggest is based on the recommendations of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. This national organization promotes merging the 3 Rs with the skills needed to “participate, achieve and compete” in a global society. Primary among these skills are communication, collaboration, creativity/innovation, and critical thinking/problem solving.

Visitors to the P21’s website ( will find a two-page summary that illustrates the framework and includes:

  • Core subjects and 21st-century themes
  • Learning and innovation skills
  • Information, media, and technology skills
  • Life and career skills.

The site provides additional detail as well, stressing the importance of five support systems critical to underlying this framework.

There’s an App for That: Harnessing Strengths and Overcoming Obstacles

When it comes to using mLearning at home to implement a gifted curriculum, I offer the advice of popular ed tech blogger David Warlick. He states that “learning is about the experience, not about the tools…The only thing we should be concerned with is equitable access to rigorous, relevant and irresistible learning experiences that reflect and harness the times, the environment and the ultimate goals of learning.”

It is the ability of mobile learning devices to provide not only access to learning but also acceleration of the curriculum. An explosion of mobile apps for smartphones, e-readers, tablets, and game systems has taken place, and the following list represents just the highlights of an extensive mobile app and resource list that is included at the end of this article.


  1. Broadcastr — helps create immersive experiences tied to a particular location
  2. Diigo — social bookmarking site that helps you organize and share your bookmarked sites
  3. Google Docs — allows you to create, share, and access documents and presentations from anywhere
  4. Mixbook — versatile program for creating photo scrapbooks and calendars
  5. PicLits — creative writing site with key words that can be added to pictures

Creativity/Critical Thinking

  1. Animoto — video slideshow service that turns photos and videos into professional looking videos
  2. Drawing Pad — allows you to draw, write, or use stamps and gets rave reviews from users
  3. Mindomo — mindmaps to solve problems and think creatively
  4. Popplet — for creating timelines and flowcharts that can be shared and completed through collaboration
  5. SimpleMind — helps with brainstorming, collecting ideas, and structuring thinking

A Framework for Advocacy

I encourage parents to become advocates for the use of mobile learning devices at home and at school as tools for exploration, discovery, access, and acceleration for their children and for all learners. My framework for advocacy includes these steps:

  1. Begin at home by examining the barriers and benefits of mobile learning for your child.
  2. Document and reflect on your experience of personalizing learning with mobile learning devices.
  3. Research mLearning in education and how it is facilitating the acquisition of 21st century skills.
  4. Share your discoveries and network in person and online with other parents and educators.
  5. Ask a question and start a conversation in your school to find out just how mLearning might be incorporated as a tool to help personalize the curriculum for all students, including every uniquely gifted learner.

For More Information

References and Resources


  • Here is a tremendous help for anyone interested in mobile learning  – a list of 134 resources.
  • This not-for profit links kids and promotes content driven online problem-solving and global collaboration.
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills advocates for 21st century readiness by merging the 3Rs with communication, collaboration, creativity/innovation and critical thinking/problem solving.
  • This not-for-profit is dedicated to improving student achievement, with a focus on students living in poverty.
  • A site designed to help teachers provide learning opportunities for students that will develop 21st Century learning through the use of Web 2.0 tools, such as Wordle and Glogster.
Cathy Risberg

This article is based on content presented by Cathy Risberg, M.A., at the 2011 NAGC convention. Risberg consults with parents, students, teachers, and administrators to identify and provide strength-based strategies to help all students, especially those who are gifted and twice-exceptional, reach their full potential. Find more information at her website Minds that Soar,

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