Education, at its heart, is about personalisation.
Schools provide a safe environment to nurture their students’ talents and make the most of who they are. We’ve moved a long way from the old approach of everyone facing the front and writing down the same thing at the same time. That model became popular, in part, out of necessity—we didn’t have the technology to set a class 15 different tasks at a range of levels of difficulty. Technology has meant that we can personalise learning and make a real difference for each child.
Drivers for this trend:
- Social: rise of the free-agent learner; peer-to-peer learning
- Technology: adaptive and assistive technologies
- Educational: agency in learning, adaptive learning, individualised education plans (IEPs), tudent initiated learning and pathways
The personal process of learning
The more we learn about learning, the more we see that it’s a deeply personal process. If you and I are learning exactly the same content for the same course, we’ll bring very different sets of prior knowledge, experiences, attitudes, and contexts to our learning. Because of that, we’ll engage with the material in different ways: you might be faster than me, but I may be better at applying it to real-world situations. We are learning similar things, but in personalised ways. Technology is enabling us to cater for that difference in ways that makes learning more effective for individual students, as well as make life easier for teachers. For example, there are publishers now who are releasing textbooks that enable every person who uses them to progress through the material differently. Faster, slower, more difficult questions—all customised to the individual, based on their responses to previous activities.
There’s some interesting research out at the moment that shows that if children initiate a learning activity, they’re more likely to learn more from it. Of necessity this is very personal. We have to give students space to initiate their own personal learning.
Bring your own device
Increasingly, schools are offering students the ability to bring their own devices, and the ones making the most of this new opportunity are looking beyond what we’ve traditionally done (having most students do similar tasks most of the time). They realise that, if there are 10 or 15 devices in a classroom, then there can quite easily be 10 or 15 different activities taking place meeting different learning needs. And often it doesn’t require more work on the teacher’s part, it just requires them to be open to the opportunity, and comfortable with students being more active in guiding their own learning.
A really important trend in education at the moment is adaptive learning, or taking data about how students are progressing and using it to personalise learning. We have lots of data about student progress but what we’ve been lacking, and what’s emerging now, are the tools to use that data to personalise learning, adjusting for individual strengths.
Tools like e-portfolios allow us to personalise learning with no greater work required by the teacher. A well-designed learning activity allows students to gather their own evidence for how they have met the requirements of the task—students can bring their talents from basketball, reading, the environment, the science lab, or computer gaming to their learning. The technology helps students to bring who they are to their learning.
Learning is a social process
Another thing we know about learning is that it’s really a social process. The act of sharing is at the heart of learning, and as technology increases our ability to communicate, it increases our ability to share. It’s this idea that has given rise to projects such as peeragogy: a massive facilitated connection of people who want to learn something with people who can teach them it. No longer are students dependent on the expertise in their classroom for their learning needs.
And so, at it’s heart, it’s about putting the ‘person’ back into personalised learning.
- To what extent does the use of digital technologies feature as a strategy for personalising the learning experience for students in your school?
- When students use e-learning in your school, how often does every student do something different?
- What use are we making of learning analytics to predict and advise on learning through the applications we use?
- How might an adaptive web environment be beneficial to schools, for example for personalising learner spaces, interactions with parents and community etc?
These are great questions to be asking in your school. But we’d love to hear about your thoughts on this matter. Here’s another one: What technology have you used to personalise learning for your students?
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