Personalized learning is a simple concept representing a huge endeavor and a major change in focus in public education. Simply put, personalized learning “should be individually tailored to each student’s needs, strengths, and interests in order to help each student learn at a deeper level.” That’s how Ana C. Rold, founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier and a political science teacher at Northeastern University, explains it. “The education system has moved away from the traditional approach of what to learn.” Now the focus is “how to learn.”
This student-centered approach to learning is based on recognizing the differences in students and delivering what they need, when they need it, in the way they need to learn it. Teaching students to be lifelong learners, to work at their own pace, pursue their own goals, and monitor their own progress is a departure from traditional teaching.
Teachers and Technology
A few years ago, the New Orleans education system began an experiment in personalized learning. With funding provided by philanthropic organizations set up by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, technology was introduced into classrooms, putting computers with adaptive software at the center of personalized learning efforts. Adaptive software automatically adjusts to each student’s performance, helping the teacher create personalized lessons.
One of the benefits of incorporating technology into personalized learning is the way it gives teachers more time to work individually with students. The Hechinger Report cites a 2017 RAND Corporation study, which found that “17 percent of teachers in the personalized learning schools … said they devote at least a quarter of class time to tutoring students one-on-one, compared to just 9 percent of teachers surveyed nationwide.”
While the transition was difficult and some students had issues adjusting to the new program, teachers worked together to help students build skills like goal-setting and time management. One teacher reported that now “she’s impressed by how motivated, focused, and independent her students are,” and this gives her time to work with the students who need additional assistance.
Challenges of Personalized Learning
Rold points out that there’s tremendous optimism surrounding personalized learning, but she believes it’s somewhat unrealistic because it lacks truly scalable models. Teachers facing the challenge of instructing the entire classroom may agree that it’s ideal to tailor learning to each student’s needs, but without adaptive tech, there may not be enough hours in the day to make it happen.
The Center on Reinventing Public Education observed personalized learning situations in participating districts and found that, while the method had strong support, teachers were often lacking the necessary tools to bring innovations to scale. This was due to a shortage of funding.
Creating Students Who Are Thinkers, Not Just Learners
Fitchburg State University offers a fully online Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching program to aid teachers on their path to improve student outcomes. The program prepares educators to apply advanced knowledge, educational theory and research for the design and implementation of educational curricula, practices and environments. Understanding how students develop as thinkers and learners is a great way to start.
Learn more about Fitchburg State University’s M.Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching online.