Personalized learning is a hot-button topic in education. The initiative has many proponents who believe in the benefits tailored education offers: Bill Gates, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings — just to name a few. For years, the topic has been in the news, but change has come slowly, if at all. What will it take for personalized education to gain a better foothold in more classrooms?
This year especially there has been a lot of news around individualized education. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg joined forces to fund a $12 million personalized education initiative. Several startup companies have formed and there is a lot of collaboration on the front of trying to find a better way to educate students. However, none of this is new. Large philanthropic groups have supported various types of education reform, but they always seem to move on to the next big idea.
What is personalized learning? The term has become difficult to clearly define. So many different theories, ideas and factors can go into defining how to tailor learning. Because of this, it is hard to pin down one clear definition. It can mean something different for each learner.
Something that can be said, though, is that for personalized education to be widely adopted there has to be more than a good idea and a lot of money behind it. In fact, there are three key parts that need to come together: faculty, students and course materials.
- Faculty support
Personalized education cannot work without the right faculty who understand and are ready to try a new way of teaching. It also requires time to customize lessons and develop classroom priorities — something many teachers didn’t feel like they had in a recent study by RAND on personalized learning initiatives.
Fully adopting personalized learning requires a major overhaul to the way education has traditionally been approached. Letting the kids set their own pace means the teachers have to be adaptable. Teachers work with students at various levels of subject understanding and across various mediums, coaching each student one-on-one. However, personalized learning also frees teachers from a strict, structured day and encourages more creativity.
- Student participation
A student gets out of their education what they put into it; this is especially true when it comes to personalized learning. Students are given the freedom to explore their interest and discover subject at a pace comfortable for them. They have to take an active role in their learning, making them responsible for their education along with the teacher.
- The right materials
Personalized learning goes beyond a textbook. Providing a variety of vetted materials for students to learn from and explore is essential. Classrooms will need access to a variety of ways for students to learn each subject, but not all of them need to be digital. Providing a good mixture of both gives students the chance to interact with different mediums. Whether introducing enhanced eBooks, OER, gamification, videos, adaptive learning courseware, the materials remain a cornerstone of learning.
Is there more than conjecture on the topic of personalized learning?
Research has not been exhaustively conducted, yet, but what has been done looks promising. Education Elements conducted a study that tracked student performance on the NWEA MAP test. Personalized learning students demonstrated 130% growth in reading and 122% in math. In Alabama on the ACT Aspire test, 72% of students grades 3-8 hit target scores, whereas the year before only 28% did. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that personalized learning students from 62 schools scored higher in math and reading than students whose teacher lectured at the front of the classroom.
However, there are also drawbacks. In recent years, student privacy concerns have come to the forefront. The worry is that personalized learning could lead to the commercialization of education. The same philanthropic companies who put so much money into developing this technology could also be mining student data that can be used for marketing purposes.
There are plenty of growing pains with personalized education, but the studies, so far, have demonstrated its great potential for providing students with a better education.