Tech-Enhanced Education

Personalized Learning Is Not about Planting Students Behind Computers

Digital Promise has issued a new report on personalized learning that dives into the policies and practices that should be pursued at the district, state, and federal levels to help individual learners master content and skills. This is the fourth report in a series on the topic of personalized learning.

Why is personalized learning getting so much attention? For several reasons, suggested Barbara Pape, co-author of the paper, on the Digital Promise blog:

  • Workforce success in the 21st century demands more complex skills than just knowing the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic;
  • There's a growing number of students who represent diverse subsets in classrooms, whether by disability, learning difference, economic standing, English skills, trauma or gifted and talented designation.
  • The "burgeoning field" of research in learning sciences addresses variability in learners; and
  • New technologies have surfaced to meet various learning needs.

Pape and fellow author Tom Vander Ark emphasized that by "personalized learning," they don't mean activities undertaken in "an isolation chamber of students in cubicles behind computers." Their definition incorporates aspects of social and emotional learning; student ownership and greater say in "what, how, when and where they learn"; tailored "objectives, approaches, content, pace and tools"; and "high expectations" for each student.

Currently, the report noted, policies tend to encourage a "one-size-fits-all" model for teacher certification, tracking accountability and placing seat time above competency in measuring learning success. Transforming that model and promoting personalized learning will require educators and policymakers to shift how they "think of school."

Among the many recommendations the report offered, technology continues to play a role. For example, ready access to computers and well chosen software can support students' skill development as well as "their passions and interests." Adaptive programs that adjust to a student's level and pace can deliver "differentiated supports and problem sets." The use of data can provide information about students that can help teachers guide "their next play." And 1-to-1 availability can outfit learners with professional tools for their work, whether writing, editing or composing, or accessibility supports such as text-to-speech or other supports that address specific learning needs.

The report is openly available on the Digital Promise website.

About the Author

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