Higher education is currently undergoing a major transformation with new pedagogical paradigms focused around student success and economies of scale. Personalized learning is one of the models that is heavily discussed and implemented more and more frequently. While this is promising progress, there is a need to facilitate interaction and collaboration across institutions and their stakeholders to develop proven personalized learning approaches.
To gauge the current state of personalized learning we took part in the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) online course: Personalized Learning: Finding the Model that Fits your Institution. The course was carried out over three sessions, each with activities, assignments and additional resources.
The course facilitators were Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill, both of whom boast a strong and varied career in education and who are consultants for Mindwires Consulting, co-publish the e-Literate education technology analysis site and blog and co-produce e-Literate TV.
The course was developed around the fact that ‘personalized learning’ products are increasingly used on campus, yet there are few opportunities for faculty and campus stakeholders to engage in open dialogue about how to use the products, how students and teaching staff feel about them or to understand their benefits or limitations.
The course enabled participants to consider the value of personalized learning on campus, identify the issues and opportunities surrounding the products and lead discussions with campus peers around personalized learning.
Previously, the perspective has seemed one sided – that the academics were not experienced enough in the language of personalized learning to have a meaningful dialogue with vendors. By enhancing academic’s personalized learning experiences, conversation between vendor and academic can be more rewarding. This means the path to adopting the best personalized learning method for the institution’s needs is much easier.
What Is “Personalized Learning” And Why Should My Institution Use It?
At the start of the first session participants were asked ‘how much do you feel you know about “personalized learning?”, with 50% having some vague idea of what it might be about and only 1% having a lot of experience and knowledge.
The industry standard term or ‘meaning’ of personalized learning is that it is a “set of technology-enabled teaching practices that promote un-depersonalized teaching and help reach students in the proverbial ‘back row’. “ (Phil)
Un-depersonalized teaching, a phrase coined by Phil and Michael, refers to a practice-centered approach focusing on the pedagogical issues why students fail and courses designed to circumvent that.
Three basic practices were identified which feature in more detail in this Educause article which was provided as an accompanying resource:
- Reclaim class time: Content is moved out of the classroom to make time for discussions, group work or individual attention. The enabler for this example is a flipped classroom approach.
- Reclaim homework: Faculty use learning analytics tools to get more insights into what and how students are doing outside of the classroom.
- Hire a tutor: Adaptive learning platforms provide the students with the support they need, when they need it. As a result they come to class better prepared.
There are two general driving factors that lead institutions to adopt a personalized learning approach:
- Technology is the driver – institutions want to explore new technologies / don’t want to get left behind the other institutions who are adopting technology.
- Outcome is the driver – institutions have a perception that changes are needed.
The use of case studies highlighted more specific driving factors for institutions seeking personalized learning approaches, with ‘Developmental Math’ surfacing as a huge area of concern for institutions.
Personalizing large lecture classes to avoid a condition described as ‘leaky pipelines’ (losing students before they complete the course) was identified as another key driver to look to alternate practices.
It was found that institutions offering newer designed programs with a modern, specific pedagogical philosophy are also likely to take a personalized learning approach as the traditional models were unable to meet the needs of students and faculty in these subject areas.
Trends in Personalized Learning Uptake
It was recognized that there are a number of reasons for institutions to try personalized learning, but some trends had been identified, including:
- Active support usually comes from those working at ‘the top’ of the organization
- Process in uptake usually starts with a specific pedagogical challenge (such as STEM drop-out) and then institutions look towards technology as a solution
A barrier to implementation is the lack of success stories based on thorough research evidence. Personalized learning outcomes are hard to research because it is a relatively new approach. Qualitative research cannot guarantee 100% accuracy from respondents and quantitative research relies heavily on response numbers, which can skew results if take up is low. However, the usage of technology allows institutions and faculty to gather more learning data than ever before and opens up new approaches for research. With all this in mind, it is recommended that institutions and vendors need to collaborate under a common research objective.
The suggestion is that by applying personalized learning approaches, institutions are now involved in a process that enables asking where they currently are and what is needed next to move on. By assessing and reassessing, institutions are continually learning and improving the experiences for learners, faculty and stakeholders.
“If you are teaching well, every single class you’re teaching is an experiment. We want faculty to feel more empirical, [and] to feel like they are researchers in the scholarship of pedagogy” Michael Feldstein
But how can we measure successful learning? Grades and pass rates don’t always reflect the depth of learning. Measures like engagement levels can be used in combination to get a deeper understanding of students’ learning. The implication for an institution is to very clearly define what successful learning means to them and how to measure it.
Your Own Situation
If you or anyone in your institution is thinking about implementing a personalized learning approach there are a few questions to consider. These questions will help you to clearly define your project and communicate it to stakeholders.
- Who are the stakeholders?
- What are their unmet needs that could be addressed by personalized learning?
- What are their current opinions about personalized learning and where did those come from? Will these opinions cause resistance?
- What opposition might you face and how can you get round them? Prepare a list of the barriers, and the solutions to each in advance.
It is important to create a common language among stakeholders when discussing pedagogy. This creates a space where teaching challenges can be identified and discussed early and a set of personalized learning solutions created to overcome barriers. One example is the increase of teaching time by using technology to remove time consuming administration.
Session 1 Take Away
With any teaching approach, participants are encouraged to ask:
“Is this un-depersonalizing teaching?”
If the answer is ‘no’, you should identify alternatives.