What Is Personalized Learning?

Photo Credit: Lexie Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

I had a conversation today about personalized learning with an education reporter. It is not something we’ve focused on here, but it is part of the next wave of education reform, so it is something that I know I need to keep my eye on. Some initial thoughts….

My first thought is that it sounds good because who would not want to tailor education to the particular learning style of a student. That is what my wife and I (mainly my wife) do as homeschooling parents.

Second, what does it mean? Here we have another catchphrase bandied about where the true meaning is not what most people think of. Remember “rigor” and “college-and-career-ready” these sound good, but what is meant? We’ve discovered that “rigor” is a meaningless term as applied to Common Core, and “college-and-career-ready” is a catchphrase for the workforce development shift in public education that has moved us further away from classical education.

Third, who benefits the most from this change in education? Students or curriculum developers?

Fourth, is this something that can realistically be accomplished within public education? What are the consequences?

The Underground Parent has a primer on personalized learning that I think is helpful.

They bring up some concerns that we should consider like its current dependence on technology:

Big data demands, adaptive learning software use, the move to mobile device use, and embedded assessments all come into play with Personalized Learning, requiring and relying heavily on technology.  Anytime student data is captured online, as these features of PL do, there is always the possibility of student privacy being compromised.

There are additional concerns that this will further cement Common Core in education:

Personalize Learning, as often presented, is student centered, calls for project-based learning. and is competency-based learning.  To many, project-based learning’s effectiveness is questionable and controversial.  Competency-based learning requires a well defined set of standards.  The standards called for are either the Common Core State Standards or the same referred to as college-and-career-ready standards.

Also, what will it do to the teacher’s role in the classroom? Will they still teach or will they instead become a facilitator or something else?

Then, we have to ask, what evidence exists that personalized learning dependent on technology will impact student achievement? (This idea, applied to public education, is not new.)

The Underground Parent also writes:

There is no indication parents want or have requested Personalized Learning as a way to meet the educational needs of their students. Not only does it appear parents have not asked for PL, they don’t seem to be asked for input or even included in discussions about it.

Is Personalized Learning a major reform measure being imposed on an education system that has not asked for it from the ground level and is not ready for it?  Like other imposed reform measures, PL will require massive funding and an incredible amount of professional development.

There are lots of questions, few answers, and very little evidence that this reform will bring about greater student achievement or reduce the achievement gap we see in many states.