Sunday, April 7, 2013

Who Controls the Learning?

Why is the focus in education becoming all about technology tracking data? Tracking data is being framed around "personalized learning" or "personalized education" as a new educational reform movement. This is not new or revolutionary. Personalized learning is not about customization, adapting curriculum, personalizing education or personalizing instruction. Personalizing learning is not about reform. It is about transforming our current educational system.
Tracking data is sill a 20th century model where the teacher is responsible for what the learner is learning -- not the learner. The data that is collected and analyzed does not reflect how the learner learns best. What does this data and this model do to develop self-regulated, motivated and engaged learners?
When you see the word "Personalized" around learning and packaged with technology and data, do your research on who is saying this and why. Personalized Learning is not about the technology; it is not about data; it is about the learner taking responsibility for their learning and driving their learning. This changes teacher and learner roles and transforms how we teach and learn.

Education is a 600 billion dollar business and educational companies (for-profit and non-profit) want their piece of the pie. The way "Personalized Learning" around the current use of data is being framed hurts our economy, our future, and our children. When you read this article in Forbes, use the lens of "starting with the learner" as "self-regulated, expert learners."
So how can today's learners own their learning and be prepared for their future world of work that still has not been defined? 
Learners need to know how they learn best and be co-designers of their learning with their teacher. In this case, the teacher plays a valuable role as a partner in learning with learners. Today's learners are not prepared. There is a surge in H-1B visas by companies who cannot find qualified workers in the US. Actually this has been problematic for over two decades and it is only going to get worse if the US  doesn't transform their current educational system. The US needs to prepare their workforce so they are marketable and in demand anywhere in the world.

Building resum├ęs are not enough. Employers want people who...
  • think independently.
  • understand how they learn best.
  • are critical assessors of their work. 
  • collaborate as team players.
  • are creative and innovative problem-solvers.
  • look for and test multiple solutions.
  • figure things out on their own. 
  • self-regulate their learning.

There are good programs and apps that help learners learn, but learners need to acquire the skills to be able to choose the appropriate tools and resources to prepare them for their future. According to Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. programs for the MacArthur Foundation, "some games do this, yet when learners are playing, they are in discovery mode with little self-regulation of learning happening. Learners need to develop a set of cognitive skills so they think deeper about their learning."
What data are you using to measure learning?  
Assessment has come into question as cognitive science has provided new insights into the nature of learning, and the traditional role of assessment in motivating learning has been challenged. Learners need to make connections about their learning. Learners are not making connections to their learning using data based on standardized tests and other summative assessments. Learners need to develop the  skills to assess and reflect on their own learning.

Before you make big budgeting decisions and put in labs that rotate kids through stations where they sit in front of computers half the day with headphones on, do some digging around to determine what will be best for your learners. Kids today know technology. They want to control their learning. When the technology uses algorithms to track clicks and performance, the technology controls their learning. Is that what you want for your learners?
“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”  Alvin TofflerPowershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century


  1. We seem to have forgotten what the Constructivism mania of the 1990s was about. We have lost our focus on the Inquiry Learning phase of the early 2000s; and, we have not heard the wisdom from Science Centers and all other informal education sources.

    We can put new names on these older vessels, but the foundational wisdom is that we learners learn when we follow our curiosity down a self-selected (and well-prepared) learning path. The way we educators prepare such learning experiences is to first gather our standards, our data, and some excellent content and put those together in a bowl on the side table. Then we set ourselves squarely in the shoes of our learner and ask, "what would excite this learner about this content?" Once engaged as we know, the learner will take the wheel. That's taking responsibility for learning -- and that's personal!

  2. Patricia said it perfectly when she wrote: "...foundational wisdom is that we learners learn when we follow our curiosity down a self-selected (and well-prepared) learning path." Right now so much of what happens in at least public schools is tied to legislation that ties school, district, and teacher evaluation to high stakes multiple choice tests, and these are wrongly driving both curriculum and pedagogy. I keep asking the question that I've been asking for many, many years. Why is it that motivated learners ages 0-5 years lose their desire and motivation to learn while they are in our school systems?


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