Monday, May 7, 2018

Personalized Learning Is Like a Clean Bedroom

When I ask my daughter if her bedroom is clean, I need to be really specific. To her, "clean room" means one thing, to my wife it's a bit different, and I have yet another take. Same words; different meanings.

Personalized learning is the same way.

On the COBIS blog, Tim Oates wrote Individualised learning, personalised learning - just where did it come from and what does it mean?, which brings up some important points. His closing really resonates:
"... we need to refine concepts of ‘personalisation’ so that we know which forms are good, and which forms are problematic. If we fail to do this, ‘personalisation’ runs the risk of increasing, not decreasing inequalities, and bogging teachers down in intensive, unproductive activities."
So true (it's British, which explains the "s" instead of "z" in "personalised learning"). The article 'Pupils trapped by personalised learning' goes into more depth with Mr. Oates.

I confronted the different meanings of "personalized learning" when I tweeted (my handle is @pabloreston) a link to the EdSurge article Million-Dollar Advice: The High Cost and Limited Return on Personalized Learning Consulting. My tweet kicked off a dialog with another user who had different ideas about what "personalized learning" implies. Here are three ways in which personalized learning can vary among implementations.

Frequency of Technology Use
  • Low: No technology is used.
  • Medium: Technology is used, but for no more than 60% of instruction/student work.
  • High: Technology is used just about daily and for more than 60% of instruction/student work. 
Teacher Control of Technology
  • Low: Technology drives instruction/activities algorithmically based on student performance.
  • Medium: Technology provides options the teacher vets/organizes with little or no algorithmic support.
  • High: Teacher creates/curates their own stuff or excludes technology altogether.
Diversity of Student Pacing
  • Low: Students are on the same topic every day, and may be given limited choices within each topic.
  • Medium: Students are generally on the same unit (about 2-weeks long?), but progress through the unit at their own pace (perhaps informed by formative assessment data).
  • High: Students are all over the place depending on how each works through the universe of the course content.
This simple structure gives us 27 different possible definitions of "personalized learning," and I'm pretty sure that each of the 27 is being used somewhere. I'm also pretty sure that some of these are generally more effective than others, and I hope that Mr. Oates will help shine a light on this.

If anyone starts discussing personalized learning with you, ask what "personalized learning" means to them. If their answer doesn't clarify all three of these dimensions, then drill down explicitly. Clarifying the definition can prevent needless debate or stir up necessary discussion.

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