Is Personalized Learning the Future of Education?
Nov 09, 2015
The pedagogy of “personalized learning” hinges on a collection of educational programs, educational approaches, and digital resources meant to cater to the distinct interests, learning styles, and even cultural backgrounds of individual students. Though the concept of “personalization” in education is not a new one, the calls to implement this pedagogy on a broader scale have been borne out of economic necessity, available digital tools, and changing educational focuses.
The definition of “personalized education” or “personalized learning” varies from one educator, educational organization, or school to the next. In many ways, it has become an omnipresent term used to market educational platforms to schools and things such as online learning platforms to potential students. Yet, the ballast of personalized learning is entrenched in the idea that each student learns differently, is passionate about different things, and that technology can play a vital role in the educational process.
"Technology can help provide students with more choices on how they're going to learn a lesson," said Susan D. Patrick, the executive director of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Vienna, Virginia. "[It] empowers teachers in personalizing learning" and "empowers students through their own exercise of choice."
At its core, this idea seems to boil down to one reoccurring thread that runs throughout all of the many definitions: technology is available, useful, and helps students to exercise those choices. Not only do these digital tools provide self-sufficiency in how students learn and enhance digital literacy, but they allow teachers to gauge the effectiveness of those lessons through streamlined digital assessments.
The World Academy Approach
Our philosophy at World Academy echoes both of these sentiments and is predicated upon utilizing the plethora of digital tools available today. This includes our NWEA testing system, which is an integral feature of our Individual Student Plans. These assessments allow us to determine and address each student’s particular needs and strengths, as opposed to statewide mandatory testing at public institutions that has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years.
Our individualized approach transcends the traditional academic standard and allows for students to explore a broadened scope of enrichment and educational opportunities. Our students have interests, abilities, and skills as varied as their personalities and there is no uniform approach to educating each of those unique personalities. We embrace the differences and then teach to each individual child’s strengths and passions.
The Four Pillars of Personalization
A group of organizations – including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and EDUCAUSE (a nonprofit association whose mission is “to advance higher education through the use of information technology”) – crafted the following four-pillar definition of personalized learning:
- Each student should have a "learner profile," or a record documenting his or her academic strengths and weaknesses, motivations, and goals.
- Students should have personal learning paths that encourage them to set and manage their individual academic goals.
- Students should follow a "competency-based progression" through topics.
- Students learning environments—in most cases, schools—should be flexible and structured in a way to support their goals.
With a focus on these four pillars, students learn at a pace that is comfortable to them, while focusing about topics that interest and matter to them.
Does this mean that the common core standards are tossed out in favor of allowing students to blaze their own educational trail? Certainly not. Six and seven year-old students are not simply left to establish their own curriculum. Rather, as children progress through K-12 education, they are required to hit critical benchmarks regardless of how they like to learn, what they want to learn, or their future goals.
The common core standard, however contested the concept might be, was initially developed to form a base of well-rounded knowledge for each child. The question becomes at which age and benchmark to stop forcing common core standards upon our children. A student that knows she wants to be journalist has little use for trigonometry. But she does need at least a working base of mathematical skills used in her day-to-day life.
The goal of K-12 education is to form a well-balanced infrastructure of knowledge so that children can make an informed decision on what they’d like to become as they progress further through their education and towards their eventual career.
Teachers Remain Irreplaceable
A reasonable and persistent argument against the idea of personalized education is that teachers become obsolete figures in this model. The most salient point to first consider is that technology will never replace the educator. Nothing can replace the guidance, support, and creativity that teachers provide in the classroom. Though the educator might move from more of an instructor to a necessary facilitator, this in no way devalues the necessity of the teacher in the classroom setting.
Technology Taps Potential
More than ever, the onus is placed squarely on the educational system to meet the diverse needs of student populations with various academic and language needs. Personalized learning through technology is perhaps the most effective and efficient way to bridge these gaps.
The myriad of digital devices, platforms, and software provides a collection of tools that allow educators to tailor lessons to the individual needs of each student. And more than just for instruction, for streamlining the assessment of those students in order to iterate what works and tweak what does not.
To gain widespread adoption of personalized learning, this will require systemic change -- a culture-shift that must start with a group that spearheads those efforts. Our goal is to be one of the institutions leading that charge.