Personalized learning, “You keep using that word…”

Many have pointed out how Star Trek predicts or shapes our use of technology. As our standardized test fetishization grew, computers become more accessible, and software became more complex, I worried that schools would become like the Vulcan academy. Students thrust through the standards at different paces and depth levels, while teachers become more like proctors.

If test scores are our primary focus, the machine can beat us and our teachers become John Henry.

As you look at personalized learning, keep asking some hard questions. What will be the role of the teacher? Where is the curriculum originating? How are students gaining agency?

The role of the teacher.

A recent article by the National Education Association focuses on the fact the role of the teacher will change as we introduce personalized learning, regardless of the type.

Greater student agency over their learning inevitably means at least a redefined role for the teacher. This is what has educators like Paul Barnwell feeling somewhat apprehensive—not because they cling to the status quo or fear innovation, but out of serious concern about what this potential sea change in education could mean for students.

Much of the rub is that we primarily focused on content and declarative knowledge. Content to hang around the remembering and understanding levels, we failed to value the higher levels of thinking. And with computers and advancement with software, including artificial intelligence, the machine replaces teachers.

But a good teacher can provide what the machine cannot. Empathy, connection, and passion are a few of things computers do not provide to students.

So as teachers, we must shift from providing content to providing context. That is where the purpose of a teacher will remain.

Where is the curriculum originating?

Edtech gadfly, Audra Watters, shared a great piece called “The Histories of Personalized Learning.” She makes strong points about what real student agency is and how our curriculums are influenced by business more than government. It continues to be. With coporations like Facebook using there money and inlfuence to guide the direction of schools. (The Zuckerbergs promising to use part of the 99% shares of Facebook ($45 billion to advance personalized learning.) -Some argue that this is again businesses and the few circumnavigating democracy and experts.

Watters states:

For DeVos – and for many, many others – “personalized learning” means just this: “we need to be really intent on focusing on the needs to each individual student.” The needs of the individual to the benefit of the individual. But to DeVos – and to many, many others – exalting the freedom of the individual here also means freedom from government control (from government control over the education system). It’s not freedom from corporations, oh no; it’s freedom from the state and more explicitly freedom from the regulations that have been put in place in the last sixty years to try to force educational institutions to be more equitable.

Please make the time to read the whole piece.

Student agency

It is quite a commentary  we recently have brought in the phrase “student-centered learning” into the education discourse. It is like we have forgotten our focus and lost the answer to the question, “What is school for?”

Sensibly, learning is a combination of the personal and social. The individual and community. In the last few decades schools have struggled with balancing these ideas, let alone how to combine them properly in school cultures. Bringing in 30 students into one classroom does not guarantee the right social learning. (Especially when they are asked to sit down and be quiet.) Nor is it a guarantee that placing them on 30 devices will provide real personal learning.

As personalized learning moves forward, many visions obviously are not about providing any more real agency for students, but rather a more efficient means to move them compliantly through the curriculum.-We still see real student agency too out of control, and completely unscalable.

So the question needs to be answered, “How much student agency is ideal for learning?” Can be a hard question when teachers do not have it either.

Published by


Using what I know about learning to help others.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.