Students do have preferences when it comes to receiving information visually or verbally, said Mark A. McDaniel, a psychology professor at Washington University and a co-author of the book “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.”
And, said Harold Pashler, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, and one of Dr. McDaniel’s co-authors on the study, no compelling evidence for teaching to students’ learning styles has emerged in the years since: “There’s one or two somewhat oddball studies,” he said, “but there’s a number of new negative findings that are more substantial.”
Dr. Pashler, too, has encountered regret from teachers who feel they should be doing more to tailor instruction to different learning styles: “They assume this is well established by the education field, that it would be great if they could only test people’s learning styles and differentiate education accordingly, but they feel sadly unable to do that because they don’t have the resources and the tests and everything else.”
Then there's a good and engaging article by writer Alfie Kohn, a leading critic of test score "fixation." It's called Four Reasons to Worry about "Personalized Learning."
(I was very happy to see Tocqueville referenced in this article, just as I was happy to see reader/teacher David Edelman reference John Mill in a comment. There's gold in those thinkers, no matter how old their writings.)
One sociologist writes about the continued relevance of what Tocqueville noticed way back then, particularly the odd fact that we cherish our commitment to individualism yet experience a “relentless pressure to conform.” Each of us can do what he likes as long as he ends up fundamentally similar to everyone else: You’re “free to expand as a standardized individual.”The four warning signs about personal versus personalized learning?
Personal learning entails working with each child to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests. It requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.Personalized learning entails adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores. It requires the purchase of software from one of those companies that can afford full-page ads in Education Week.
1) The tasks have been personalized for kids, not created by them.
2) Education is about the transmission of bits of information, not the construction of meaning.
3) The main objective is just to raise test scores.
4) It's all about the tech (no bass, just treble).
“Follow the money” is apt advice in many sectors of education — for example, in language arts, where millions are made selling leveled “guided reading” systems, skills-based literacy workbooks, and the like. Simpler strategies, such as having kids choose, read, and discuss real books from the library may be more effective, but, as reading expert Dick Allington asks drily, “Who promotes a research-based practice that seems an unlikely profit center? No one.”
He saves the best for last and I wish everyone, from the Superintendent to the School Board to principals and teachers would read this:
This version of “personalized learning” actually began 60 years ago when B.F. Skinner proposed setting each child before a teaching machine, an idea rooted in “measurability, uniformity, and control of the student,” according to Canadian educator Philip McRae. Today’s:
adaptive learning systems still promote the notion of the isolated individual. . .being delivered concrete and sequential content for mastery. However, the re-branding is that of personalization. . . [with a] customized technology platform delivering 21st century competencies. . . .At its most innocent, it is a renewed attempt at bringing back behaviourism and operant conditioning to make learning more efficient. At its most sinister, it establishes children as measurable commodities to be cataloged and capitalized upon by corporations.
Certain forms of technology can be used to support progressive education, but meaningful (and truly personal) learning never requires technology. Therefore, if an idea like personalization is presented from the start as entailing software or a screen, we ought to be extremely skeptical about who really benefits.
One final caveat: in the best student-centered, project-based education, kids spend much of their time learning with and from one another. Thus, while making sense of ideas is surely personal, it is not exclusively individual because it involves collaboration and takes place in a community. Even proponents of personal learning may sometimes forget that fact, but it’s a fact that was never learned by supporters of personalized learning.
I laughed at this sentence: