(To note, I believe that many teachers are, of course, doing personalized learning as much as they can within the scope of the size of their classrooms and the resources they have. This is what teachers have done since teaching began.)
First, a word about these definitions from a story at KQED (bold mine):
“We often say we want creativity and innovation – personalization – but every mechanism we use to measure it is through control and compliance,” Laufenberg said. “Those things never come together as long as that is the overriding moment.” She cautions educators who may be excited about the progressive educational implications for “personalized learning” to make sure everyone they work with is on the same page about what that phrase means.As you might suspect, there are several definitions so I'll post a couple.
From the U. S. Department of Education:
Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others. This type of learning leads to better student engagement because the content is relevant to each student and tailored to their unique needs. It also leads to better student outcomes because the pace of learning is customized to each student.Wikipedia has the most obvious definition (and, on the face of it, simplest):
By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.
Personalized learning, individualized instruction, personal learning environment and direct instruction all refer to efforts to tailor education to meet the different needs of students.One telling point, again from the Wickipedia page (bold mine):
The use of the term "personalized learning" dates back to at least the early 1960s, but there is no widespread agreement on the definition and components of a personal learning environment. Even enthusiasts for the concept admit that personal learning is an evolving term and doesn't have any widely accepted definition.
In 2005, Dan Buckley defined two ends of the personalized learning spectrum: "personalization for the learner," in which the teacher tailors the learning, and "personalization by the learner," in which the learner develops skills to tailor his own learning. This spectrum was adopted by the (2006) Microsoft’s Practical Guide to Envisioning and Transforming Education.
Individualization refers to the strategies aiming to guarantee all students' mastery of the same learning objectives by adjusting the pace to the progression of the learner. The teacher (or computer) manages the best solution based on learner performance. Personalization, however, is also about using a student's individual abilities, sensibilities, and competencies (including emotional ones)—to develop his aptitudes, capabilities and talents.
Typically technology is used to try to facilitate personalized learning environments.From the Gates Foundation:
Individualized instruction relies upon carefully prepared instructional materials and lesson plans. Individualized instruction is recommended only for students of at least junior high school age, and presumes that they the self-discipline to be able to study independently.
This growing movement is focused on changing the learning environment so students can take more ownership of their learning and teachers can work with them to discover their passions and interests.They continue on to make this all sound exceptionally cozy:
The breakthrough idea in personalized learning is the striking shift in the teacher-student team. In traditional learning, the teacher is the leader and the student is a mostly passive recipient. In personalized learning, the student is the leader, and the teacher is the activator and the advisor.
Personalized learning creates deeper teacher-student bonds because the teacher has to know the student to customize a program and to offer advice.That might be true if the teacher wasn't being encouraged to look at "data" to form a picture of a student, rather than actually knowing the student. And, in large classes, is anyone believing the ability of teachers to create that kind of "knowing" and then customize a program for every single student?
Here's their example:
Indianapolis’ Warren Central High School is a large traditional public school where 63 percent of students come from low-income families, and more than 50 percent are students of color. Warren’s teachers and students work together to create flexible and functional learning spaces. The shining example is the Warrior MediaPlex, the school’s former library. Redesigned, it now includes two computer labs called “SI-COM Labs,” which provide students with dual-monitor stations that mirror contemporary work environments and where students can view teachers’ screens as they’re following instructions for their work.The library as computer lab.
Here's a more broadly-based definition from Ed Week except that Ed Week is not as objective as they used to be and I see that their sources are ed reform groups. What is fascinating about Education Week's "working definition" is that it leaves out the role of technology.
Next Generation Learning Challenges (also affiliated with the Gates Foundation) says this:
The definition of personalized learning is rapidly evolving and its difference from other Next Gen Topics—like next gen learning and blended learning—may not be clear. Personalized learning can take place in digitally enhanced environments or not.Here's the thinking from Educause Review by two researchers on this topic, Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill (also funded by the Gates Foundation, sigh). The article is around higher ed but applicable here:
If we choose to think of personalized learning as a practice rather than a product, we can start by taking a hard look at course designs and identifying those areas that fail to make meaningful individual contact with students. These gaps will be different from course to course, subject to subject, student population to student population, and teacher to teacher. Although there is no generic answer to the question of where students are most likely to fall through the cracks in a course, there are some patterns to look for (as we will discuss later in this article).This is an idea I can support - a practice rather than a product. But whenever you have the possibility of a massive number of people needing product for the practice, that's where it all goes one direction.
Technology then becomes an enabler for increasing meaningful personal contact.Here's what they say happens(partial):
- Moving content broadcast out of the classroom: Even in relatively small classes, a lot of class time can be taken up with content broadcast such as lectures and announcements. Personalized learning strategies often try to move as much broadcast out of class time as possible in order to make room for more conversation. (Editor's note: see "flipping" a classroom as another term.)
- Turning homework time into contact time: In a traditional class, much of the work that the students do is invisible to the teacher. Personalized learning approaches often allow the teacher to observe the students' work in digital products, so that there is more opportunity to coach students. Further, personalized learning often identifies meaningful trends in a student's work and calls the attention of both teacher and student to those trends through analytics. (Editor's note: this huge shift to data analysis is a fundamental shift in teaching.)
- Providing tutoring: Sometimes students get stuck in problem areas that don't require help from a skilled human instructor. Although software isn't good at teaching everything, it can be good at teaching some things. Personalized learning approaches can offload the tutoring for those topics to adaptive learning software that gives students interactive feedback while also turning the students' work into contact time by making it observable to the teacher at a glance through analytics.
None of these techniques, by themselves, undepersonalize the teaching. They generally need to be designed and implemented by skilled educators as part of a larger course design that is intended to address the particular problems of particular students.Designed and implement by skilled educators? Common Core wasn't even written by educators so I'm not sure I believe that much of the personalized learning products that teachers will use will be written by educators.
Here's how it would work:
-Students in the course spend part of their class time in a computer lab, working at their own pace through an adaptive learning math program.So teachers have to learn how to use a personalized learning system (which I assume their district would assign to them - I doubt if individual teachers could do this on their own.) They also have to learn how to analyze large amounts of data that is being churned out every day (unless the personalized learning software does that for them but what if the data doesn't match what the teacher actually knows - in-person - about the students?) Lastly, every week every teacher will talk one-on-one with every student? I'll have to ask some teachers about that.
-Students who already know much of the content can move through it quickly, giving them more time to master the concepts that they have yet to learn.
-Students who have more to learn can take their time and get tutoring and reinforcement from the software.
-Teachers, now freed from the task of lecturing, roam the room and give individual attention to those students who need it. They can also see how students are doing, individually and as a class, through the software's analytics.
But the course has another critical component that takes place outside the computer lab, separate from the technology. Every week, the teachers meet with the students to discuss learning goals and strategies. Students review the goals they set the previous week, discuss their progress toward those goals, evaluate whether the strategies they used helped them, and develop new goals for the next week.
Because personalized learning is a family of educational practices that support good course designs, implementing those practices well is not as simple as buying a product.
To begin with, course design is always a time-consuming process when done correctly.
Second, in many cases faculty will be trying techniques they have not used before, requiring them to teach in ways that are very different from how they have taught before, that are far removed from their experience (and therefore instincts) of what works and what doesn't, and that may have ripple effects they don't anticipate.
On top of all this, the vast majority of faculty are neither trained in course design/research nor compensated for any time they invest in it. They will need time and support. In many cases, implementing personalized learning well can require an institutional effort analogous to the one required to implement an online learning program well.So for K-12 educators there's new Common Core-based curriculum AND new high-stakes tests and now "personalized learning?" Where are the resources for this?
And here's where we get to the crux of what personalize learning is - more technology-based learning that may or may not be truly "personalized." And I'm not saying personalized learning = digital learning. I'm saying the main basis for personalized learning revolves around using technology.
One big item to note is that this is a different thing from tracking student achievement data broadly; this tracks every single student.
As I look over the research I have, this may be a three to four part series as I want to cover:
- who is using it
- who is promoting it (three guesses and you'd probably be right every single time)/ making money off it
- costs to districts
- opinion from experts in all corners