Education experts have had to tackle many trends over the decades. With time constraints and budget controls regularly cited as areas for concern by teaching staff, administrators and institution heads, it can be difficult to embrace developments if they may become obsolete in years to come.
Personalized learning and adaptive learning tools, which facilitate personalized learning, feature regularly on lists of educational fads. Educators are right to ask “will personalized and adaptive learning be around long enough to make it worth my while?”.
Personalization is Everywhere
We live in a world where personalization takes place everywhere in the online world. It began with a tool that tracked online preferences and offered a selection of appropriate advertising based on likes and interests. Today, personalization has advanced beyond this with the introduction of services that genuinely enhance the online experience. Services such as Amazon’s recommendations help you buy music, films, books, toys – anything – based on your previous purchases.
Every week Spotify delivers music suggestions to your dashboard, linking with the playlists you’ve already established – and there’s the added function of seeing what your Spotify friends are listening to in a real-time panel.
Every day people engage with personalized news feeds, personalized functions to create radio and television, life hints & tips with the use of ‘virtual scrapbooking’ tools such as Pinterest and more. Personalization tools provide a very real opportunity for individuals to discover new ideas, new interests, new loves – exactly what marketing experts are encouraging companies to embrace if they want to improve their prospects and success into the future.
As a result, personalized learning has settled into the education sphere – with educators both embracing it and avoiding it in equal measure. Personalized learning combines a variety of tools and services designed to provide an individual learning experience for students. The intention is that it runs alongside the current curriculum, and can include elements such as competency based education, student data analytics, and adaptive learning platforms.
The notion of personalized learning has been around for a long time – the teaching profession is centered around the notion of developing individuals, to enhance their learning experience, and set them up for as positive a future as possible. One-to-one tutoring, mentoring and individualized homework assignments are some strategies that have been used over the decades to encourage a personalized approach. With this approach, teachers have strived to enhance the learning experience for their students. But with a class of over thirty children – or in colleges and universities, whole lecture theatres of hundreds of students – it has never been possible to truly personalize learning for each student. Now, with access to faster than ever broadband, a wider acceptance of devices other than computers, and a more mature and digitally aware population, the opportunities for personalized learning are greater than ever before. There is a lot of buzz around ‘edtech’ tools but there is also lack of clarity on how to integrate them into personalized teaching – and this is why there’s some skepticism surrounding it.
How to Utilize Personalized Learning for a Positive Educational Experience
As far back as 2012, the concept of personalized learning as a fad was being discussed around the world. In 2016, there are still skeptics. Many educators have concerns centered around the notion of students learning better when they are part of a wider social group or in a wider class context. The implication is that using edtech tools, like adaptive technologies, for a personalized learning experience encourages isolation in the classroom.
Once again it is important to emphasize that personalized learning is not a product. Even though there is no clear definition it is fair to describe it as a holistic teaching approach, that tailors instruction to individual students and classrooms in order to engage and support students in a unique way. However, if a classroom is bigger than a couple of dozen people, this becomes challenging and time consuming. Edtech tools aid instructors in managing this process more effectively – but there is no fully personalized learning experience without an instructor in the center. As the tools take the strain of delivering the content away from instructors, they can focus on higher level learning activities, like discussions, experiments or case studies. So instead of causing isolation, edtech tools can facilitate student interaction with their instructors and peers.
For those who would like to implement personalized learning, researching the critics is a good place to start. Skepticism is healthy – it reminds us to ask questions and dig deeper into issues before implementing change. In an educational context, it is always vital to do research, make plans, address issues and keep communication flowing between relevant departments, colleagues and students. If personalization in other areas of society has become the norm, then it’s safe to assume that it will become more and more standard as edtech continues to develop. Despite the critics, Donald Clark, a UK-based edtech entrepreneur, is in favor of personalized and adaptive learning because “‘personal’ can mean relevant, timely, location-based, self-determined, self-generated, favorites, targeted, private, even intimate. Learning is rarely any of these. Set-meal courses are the norm. What to do? Personalize”.
Personalized learning and tools like adaptive learning have been cited as a fad in education for a number of years. Due to lack of clarity about their true meaning and how they manifest in instruction, there is still a lot of skepticism around. However, as technology and digital awareness continue to stride forward it seems fair to say that personalized learning, aided by technology, is well and truly here to stay.