Sunday, June 21, 2015

Focus on the Learner Not Technology

Are you confused about what is Personalized Learning? It means different things to different people depending on where and how it is referenced. Some believe it is about promoting software programs or apps that personalize learning for you. Our focus is on the learner first.

Technology is moving the idea of “personalized” forward everywhere we look. When you order a book, movie, or other product or service online, you get “personalized” recommendations for similar products based on your previous selections. You can even “personalize” your connections to new friends based on past connections. This approach of using algorithms to connect similar ideas, people, and products is being reframed as “personalized” in the form of “adaptive learning systems” for education. Educators are confused when they walk through an educational conference and see the word “personalized” everywhere around all types of products and services.

Companies are very good at framing their programs as personalized learning. Many textbook companies promote their curriculum with pacing guides and some call them "personalized." Be aware of who is framing their story around "personalized learning." Read Elliot Washor's post "What do you mean by "personalized learning?" on framing and the confusion around the term.

Is personalizing learning done to you or for you, or do you personalize learning for yourself?

Personalized Learning means...
Personalized Learning does not mean…
the teacher guides the process so learners have voice and choice in learning.
teacher-directed differentiated or individualized instruction.
learners acquire the skills to choose and use appropriate resources and tools for tasks.
using technology for instruction in the form of adaptive learning systems.
learners develop learning plans based on goals, strengths, interests, and passions.
technology develops learning plans based on data and performance using algorithms.
learners understand how they learn best using UDL principles to access information, engage content, and express what they know.
teachers use standardized tests or learning styles to understand how learners learn.
teacher and learners monitor progress of learning and adjust strategies as they learn.
teacher responds to areas for intervention after learner struggles or fails.
transforming the system so the focus is on the learner first.
staying with the “status quo” or using technology because it is easier to implement.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a trademark of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)

Technology in the form of adaptive learning systems and most test prep programs puts the focus on performance. Online adaptive learning services provide individualized learning experiences by applying mathematical modeling to learners’ studying. Their software is adaptive as the content it presents changes based on the learner’s performance-- by their strengths and weaknesses. Algorithms dictate the most appropriate next question for learners. 

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons 

This image of 'Teaching Machines' was originally created years ago and then included in Phil McRae's post on the Rebirth of the Teaching Machine through the Seduction of Data Analytics and then from Barbara's post This Time It's Personal and Dangerous where she expanded on McRae's article and shared: 
"The idea of children having their own personal choice how they will learn is being redesigned as increasingly data driven, standardized, and mechanized learning systems. Children should not be treated like automated teller machines or credit reward cards where  companies can take their valuable data."

In a personalized learning environment, learners actively participate in their learning. They have a voice in what they are learning based on how they learn best. Learners have a choice in how they demonstrate what they know, what paths they take to learn, and provide evidence of their learning.

In a personalized learning environment, the teacher is the guide on the learner's personal journey. When learners have choices to interact with the content and discuss what they watched, read, and learned, they are actively participating in learning. Encouraging learner voice and choice is the key difference to the other terms: differentiation and individualization. When learners have a voice in how they learn and a choice in how they engage with content and express what they know, they are more motivated to want to learn and own their learning.

The system needs to change from focusing on performance and tests to rethinking the design of teaching and learning around how learners learn best.