Luddites aside, the promise of personalized learning for students is undeniably pleasant. Students untethered from bell schedules and classroom desks, free to exercise at the times that best suit their moods, rhythms and motivations and liberated to read or study when they are most receptive to reflection, language and learning, freedom is enticing. The barriers to this utopia are countless, but one of the most popular villains is the Carnegie Unit. A Carnegie Unit is a period of time that is used to measure learning. As anyone that has sat through a boring lecture knows, sitting in class does not equal learning. The time you sit in class is a Carnegie Unit. The first step to personalizing learning, then, is allowing students to control the time, place, path and pace of their learning.

Carnegie Units are entrenched in the education laws of all fifty states. Untethering schools from seat time is as daunting a task as untethering office jobs from the 9-5. Yahoo famously adopted and then backed away from its work-anywhere culture. The trend is only in the direction of more self-directed work. Gallup reports the trend toward anywhere, anytime working continues unabated. Over 37% of employees don’t go to traditional offices.

People appreciate control of their time. Talent expert Robin Erickson’s work last year highlights that among highly skilled workers, the exchange value of working asynchronously at a self-chosen location is a primary reason people choose one job over another.

Students aren’t the only ones tethered to schools. Education professionals are tied to the schools, too. Teachers have rigid schedules. It is difficult to imagine judges or lawyers needing to jump up every fifty minutes after a bell rings that tells them to move on to the next case. Few administrators telecommute because few school districts have formal teleworking policies for managers, and even when they do, supervisors trust precious few direct reports with telecommuting. Despite these pushbacks, net telecommuting will continue to increase.

High-performers value flexibility and are more motivated, efficient and productive than other workers regardless where and how they work. High-performers create success for any organization, and schools need to compete for talent today more than ever.

Developing workplaces that allow work anywhere helps organizations succeed. As any human resources executive will report, most supervisors do a bad job of defining what they want from an employee. Thinking about what an employee will do while telecommuting forces supervisors to clarify expectations at the office. Structuring schools around expectations rather than seat time changes the fundamental expectation of teachers and students from minutes at school to ownership of learning.

The process of untethering educators from classrooms and offices clarifies responsibilities and roles. Untethering children provides freedom from one-size-fits-all bell schedules.

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