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Elliot Washor

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How can personalized learning enable all students to follow their interests?

Big Picture Learning

Rhode Island, USA
Education is tailored to each student’s interests, talents and needs which results in a student-centered learning experience where students are actively invested in their learning.

What is Big Picture Learning?

Elliot Washor, Co-founder Big Picture Learning
“We at Big Picture Learning stand for unbridled, fearless curiosity and we will continue, as we always have, to foster learning spaces which create the wake in which students can freely, and with courage, pursue their passions and interests”

Elliot Washor, Co-founder Big Picture Learning

One of the biggest criticisms of mass education systems is that they are too standardized, or 'one size fits all.' As we all have different learning styles, interests and talents it would make sense for education to be personalized to complement our unique abilities.

Not only would this increase motivation for students, but could help children who do not currently fit with the current learning style employed in education, potentially helping individuals who struggle with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.

That's all well and good, but the reality of making learning personalized in a class of 30+ students seems difficult and extremely daunting, especially when teachers are tasked with preparing students for standardized tests and set learning outcomes.

So, while the positives of personalized education are recognized, implementation can seem impossible.

Big Picture Learning makes personalized education more managable by breaking the students up into small groups of fifteen students, called an advisory.

Each advisory is supported and lead by an advisor, a teacher that works closely with the group of students and forms personalized relationships with each member of their group. 

They stay in the same advisory for four years, and each student works closely with his or her advisor to personalize their learning by identifying interests, figuring out how they learn best and what motivates them. Parents and families are also actively involved in the process, helping to shape the student’s continuation of learning.

Internships are a crucial part of the method. The advisors work with each student to arrange opportunities best suited to them, providing real-world learning alongside creating future career plans.

The result is a student-centered learning experience, where students are actively invested in their learning and feel challenged to pursue their interests by a supportive community of educators, professionals, and family members who truly get to know them as individuals.

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Innovation Overview
5 - 18
Age Group
44 000
2 962
Tips for implementation
Changes to the traditional notions of education and schools can require a change of mindset and a willingness to try something new. Teachers may need to unlearn what they know and are used to when it comes to teaching. Teachers will need training to support them to make the transition to the Big Picture Learning structure.
Connect with innovator
Elliot Washor
HundrED Review

Big Picture Learning works at the level of the individual student. Each student has a voice in their own learning and a sense of agency in both the school and wider communities.


Established in Rhode Island, USA in 1995, the very first class of Big Picture Learning school students graduated in 2000 with a 96% graduation rate. 98% of its graduates were admitted to post-secondary institutions, receiving over $500,000 in scholarships to help fund their college experiences. 


As well as having 65 schools in USA, the Big Picture Learning philosophy of "one student at a time" has already seen the idea spread to a number of countries including New Zealand, India, Kazakstan, China and Belize where new schools have been created, existing schools have transformed or national policies have been influenced.


See this innovation in action

In Action: BPL Learning Through Internships Programs
In Action: BPL Learning Through Internships programs
Students Connecting to Mentors in the Skilled Trades
10 Expectations
NEXT School, Mulund W - India's 1st Big Picture School
Autonomie in invatare
Bogdan Badiu
Dennis Littky: Reimagining Education One Student at a Time | HundrED Innovation Summit


Achievements & Awards


Spread of the innovation


Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Consider the students' expectations of school
We often hear of the expectations that schools have of students, but we rarely get a chance to hear about the expectations that students have of schools. These get less attention, but are essential to keeping students engaged and in school.
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Explore the 10 Expectations portal
To support schools and teachers to move towards personalized learning, Big Picture Learning has created a portal filled with useful resources.
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Build the learning community
Parents and families are actively involved in the learning process, helping to shape the student’s learning plan and are enrolled as resources to the school community.
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Develop internships for engaging and relevant education
Real world learning is best accomplished in the real world. Big Picture students intern with experts in their field of interest, completing authentic projects and gaining experience and exposure to how their interests intersect with the real world.
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