What is personalized learning, and how does technology help make it happen? These were the questions I needed to answer for myself, and which I pursued in the research articles in the MSU libraries. Richard Culatta’s TEDx video gave me a place to start in my understanding. The articles An Operationalized Understanding of Personalized Learning and Personalized Learning in Algebra helped me advance my understanding.
One of the first things I realized in my studies was that personalized learning does not have a strict definition. Much like constructivism, personalized learning is more of a methodology. According to Richard Culatta, personalized learning enables real-time feedback, allows adjusting of pace, gives learners agency, creates creators, and enables mass customization through the collection of big data(Culatta, 2013). This is a tall order for any educational system, and leaves many teachers wondering how they could possibly implement it. Basham indicates that there is not consensus on what personalized learning is nor how to implement it . He states that “personalized learning is extremely disruptive to the traditional education system”… because it places the learner and his or her diverse needs at the center of the classroom, minimizing traditional performance measures.(Basham et al. 2016) Meanwhile, Walkington kept his definition of personalized learning pretty narrow in looking for ways to implement it in a mathematics classroom. He sounded more like a constructivist than Culatta when talking about tailoring math problems to the interests and knowledge that students bring with them into the classroom, thereby fostering interest and boosting motivation. Personalized learning has become so much of a buzzword in education circles that it can be difficult to pin down exactly what it is.
It can be tempting to think that personalized learning is just the latest fad in education, pushed by tech companies that have software packages to sell, but I think there are important ideas here that educators should embrace. I think its important to keep in mind the ways in which students learn. The basis of any constuctivist theory is that “meaning is constructed by the learner.” (O’Donnell, p.61) This indicates that learning, constructing mean, is an individual process. Learners are all different individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. A lot of teacher preparation courses stress getting to know students as individuals, the better to tailor lessons for them. Personalized learning just seems an extension of this. It just kicks it up a notch and further empowers the learner, and technology enables this personalization to go a lot further. Technology allows delivery of content in a multitude of mediums. It allows feedback to be instant. It can place students in the driver’s seat of their own learning path in a way that is nigh impossible to manage without the assistence of technology. It is just important to keep in mind that not all software packages that tout ‘personalized learning’ may actually be in keeping with that Richard Cullata describes. Technology is just another tool, not a solution.
One aspect of personalized learning as described by Culatta stuck out, because I didn’t find it in other definitions. Culatta mentions that personalized learning “creates creators”. This ties personalized learning right into the maker movement. If teachers can design their curriculum so that students are exploring or demonstrating their understanding by creating something, after a personalized lesson/choice they can take advantage of the increased motivation and higher level thinking skills that both these movements seek to activate.
I love these ideas and the possibilities that come to mind, but my research failed to answer my questions about one aspect of personalized learning. How can I possibly implement any of it, when I lack regular access to computers/laptops? Perhaps the answer for me lies more in the maker movement, than software.