Policy & Funding

Personalized Learning to Dominate Chan Zuckerberg Ed Investments

In a country where the "most privileged" students tend to receive the benefits of getting the "most tailored education," what would happen if that experience were offered to every student? In a new essay published on Medium, Jim Shelton laid out the just how the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in education is unfolding — in the direction of personalized learning. Shelton is the head of the initiative's education division; formerly, he was a program officer at the Gates Foundation, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration and president of online education provider 2U.

The concept of personalized learning has long been an interest for Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. Their foundation, among many investments, has supported Enlearn, a nonprofit that has developed an adaptive learning platform; SAGA Innovations, a nonprofit that gives personalized help to struggling students; and the College Board, to help that organization expand access to its personalized online SAT preparation and college-planning tools.

In the near term, the organization will invest in development of promising "practices and products founded in the science of learning and development."

Specifically, wrote Shelton, the organization is placing its bets on tools "that can help teachers help students advance at their own pace with an individual learning plan." It's also supporting research that will help the field quicken its pace in learning how students learn.

In the course of figuring out how to bring personalized learning to more students, Shelton added, his organization feels "the weight" of listening "extensively" to teachers, students and their families. "It's our responsibility to learn quickly and find ways to ensure that learning reaches the professionals who can put it to use. And it's likewise our responsibility —  as it is for anyone in this work —  to ensure student privacy is thoroughly protected, and student data is used responsibly."

However, emphasized Shelton, the concept of personalized learning doesn't equate solely to the use of computing. "Lately, that term has been slapped on images and stories in which a computer screen intermediates or substitutes for a child's relationship with a teacher, and where an academic measure is the only one that matters," he noted. Better to focus on the "relationships and shared experiences between people," he wrote, both teachers and students and between peers. "The heart and soul of education remains about great practitioners working lovingly and skillfully to create the environments and experiences that truly change lives."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.