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Friday, November 16, 2018

The Future Of Learning? Well, It's Personal | NPR

Anya Kamenetz, NPR's lead education blogger explains, Personalization is a huge ed-tech buzzword, but not everyone agrees on what that means or if it's a good thing.
Photo: Drew Lytle for NPR

If you do a Google image search for "classroom," you'll mostly see one familiar scene: rows or groups of desks, with a spot at the front of the room for the teacher.

One teacher, many students: It's basically the definition of school as we know it, going back to the earliest days of the Republic. "We couldn't afford to have an individual teacher for every student, so we developed a way of teaching large groups," as John Pane, an education researcher at the RAND Corporation, puts it.

This model keeps costs down, but it requires sacrifices. Teachers and students have a hard time getting to know one another well. The curriculum can hardly speak to the passions and interests of each student.

And a fundamental problem is pacing. Teachers introduce fractions because it's the 10th day of the third grade, not because every student in a class of 28 is ready to learn that concept. The Common 
Core State Standards, in use in 41 states and Washington, D.C., follow this grade-based progression. And every state gives high-stakes tests to students based on when they've completed a certain number of semesters of school — not when each is deemed ready.

But students are people. And people are different from each other...

Personalized learning is also a major priority of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (which is a supporter of NPR's education coverage) and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The commitment by the Facebook founder's philanthropy is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

OK, so this is going to be big. But what is personalized learning, exactly? The term has buzz, for sure. But it's also a bit — or more than a bit — baggy.

In fact, in speaking about it with more than a dozen educators, technologists, innovation experts and researchers, I've developed a theory: "Personalized learning" has become a Janus-faced word, with at least two meanings in tension:
  1. The use of software to allow each student to proceed through a pre-determined body of knowledge, most often math, at his or her own pace.
  2. A whole new way of doing school. Not necessarily focused on technology. Students set their own goals. They work both independently and together on projects that match their interests. Adults facilitate, investing time in getting to know each student one-on-one, both their strengths and their challenges.
Which vision of personalization will prevail? Pace alone, or "Personalize it all"? And what proportion of the hype will be realized?...

For a report published in 2018 by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, researchers interviewed and surveyed hundreds of teachers at schools that had received funds from the Gates Foundation to design and implement personalized learning. They found that, while many teachers were wildly enthusiastic, they were often left on their own.

Source: NPR