Reinventing Curriculum

Use Computers in the Classroom for Personalized Learning and Social Learning

  • "We [K-12] still fundamentally operate on a [sage-on-the-stage] model that was brought to us 150 years ago by the Prussians. We have not deviated fundamentally from that approach, yet everything has changed in the world." Betsy Devos

While Secretary of Education Devos may not be the foremost K-12 scholar, her observation on the state of K-12 education definitely has merit.  (We leave for another blog our deep concerns with Devos’ strategy for addressing that situation in K-12.) And, Devos’ observation about "everything has changed" also has merit. How we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, how we keep ourselves healthy, etc. — have indeed changed dramatically due in large measure to the integration of the computer into those activities.

That said, K-12 has been much slower to integrate the computer into everyday classroom activities. However, with the significant decrease in the cost of personal computing devices — and with the increased value placed on the use of personal computing devices in our every day activities — the rate at which personal computing devices will be placed into K-12 classrooms is about to expand dramatically.

OK, so personal computing devices will enter the K-12 classroom. How will they be used? Will personal computers be used to empower learners to be creators of information, or will computers bolster students as consumers of information?  We might well learn from history. Traditionally, new technology is used to mimic old technology — albeit more efficiently — for a while. For example, the motion picture camera was first used to simply record actors on a stage. Interestingly, relatively quickly, folks figured out that the motion picture camera could be used to tell a "new kind of story" — a story different from the one told on a stage. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are classrooms where students read a digitized textbook on the computer — and do the problems at the end of the chapter on a piece of paper.

More and more, though, it is feeling like that "new kind of story" is to use computers to foster "personalized learning."

  • "'Personalized learning' programs and the use of the term 'personalized learning' seem to be everywhere in education today." Kurshan and Janovitz
  • "Personalized learning has become one of the most talked-about strategies in education today." Mathewson

What is personalized learning?

What is enabling the ability to deliver personalized learning?

  • "Technology  [personal computing devices] increasingly is being used to personalize learning and give students more choice over what and how they learn and at what pace, preparing them to organize and direct their own learning for the rest of their lives." 2017 National Educational Technology Plan Update

And, make no mistake, personalized learning is on the move:

  • "Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft’s co-founder and chairman has invested more than $240 million to date in a developing field known as 'personalized learning.'" Newton
  • "The mission of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is to catalyze the transformation of K-12 education policy and practice to advance powerful, personalized, learner-centered experiences through competency-based, blended and online learning." iNACOL mission statement

Candidly, how could one disagree with the goal of making learning more personalized? After all:

  • "The underlying principles of personalized learning are not new to education. Teachers have sought to meet the unique needs of students for decades…" Kurshan and Janovitz

The above notwithstanding, we have our concerns with personalized learning. But, a 1,000 word blog post is not the place to take on "personalized learning," per se. (Though, we have had a go at it; please see post1, post2, post3.) Rather, here, we propose a complement to personalized learning. We suggest that in addition to using those ubiquitous personal computing devices to foster personalized learning, we can also use that same technology — along with Social 3.0 software — to support social learning — learning from and with others — as well.

We are not alone in advocating for social learning — to say the least:

  • "Socrates: … knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning" From "The Meno" by Plato.

In the Socratic Method a teacher engages in a dialog with a student (or students). The teacher asks questions, probes responses. The Socratic Method is the opposite of a monologue, and it embodies the notion that "learning is in the conversation."

  • "Education is a social process … Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself" From "Democracy and Education" by John Dewey.

Dewey would not feel that education is being well-served if personalized learning devolved into just delivering instruction — even if that delivery were better adapted to individual students’ needs.

  • "One of Dewey's main ideas is that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution … [he] didn’t agree with one-way delivery style of … schooling...." MindMaps

To sum up, then, as noted in the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP):

  • "The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences."

Computers are coming into the classroom — that's a given — and they will be used for personalized learning – that seems to be a given too. But, but, but: we urge those in charge to also consider using those computers coming into the classroom not just for personalized learning - but for social learning as well. 

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