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EdTech Update




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Personalizing or depersonalizing learning with technology?


Diane Ravich, a thinker and writer for who I have great respect, enumerates "5 Risks Posed by the Increasing Misue of Technology in Schools (EdSurge, Dec 29, 2017). I agree with all of them, but I think this one needs a bit more explication:

Risk Two: The Proliferation of 'Personalized Learning'

Personalized learning, or “competency-based education,” are both euphemisms for computer adaptive instruction. Again, a parent rebellion is brewing, because parents want their children taught by a human being, not a computer. They fear that their children will be mechanized, standardized, subjected to depersonalized instruction, not “personalized learning.” While many entrepreneurs are investing in software to capture this burgeoning industry, there is still no solid evidence that students learn more or better when taught by a computer.

There are some very distinct definitions of "personalized" learning. The one Ravich describes is certainly one the education industry promotes, one in which the programmed instruction basically controls the educational experience. It consists of sophisticated, yet mindless, activities that supposedly teach basic skills and move the learners ahead based on some kind of in-program assessment. The teacher, if there is one and not just a lab monitor, turns the student over to the machine. Which really does not give a damn about the child except for the data he/she generates. 

Yet I see two other uses for technology that are a better description of personalization. The first is a modification and extremely targeted and monitored use of systems like the one above for intervention for kids not learning in the traditional classroom. Depending on what research you read (published by independent researchers or by company-owned researchers), this approach may or may not be effective.

The other description that technology allows for personalization, however, is when the professional teacher, knowing the child, can use a learning management system to provide materials and activities fitted to individual ability and interests. Rather than replace the teacher, the technology augments the ability of the professional to reach every student.

Tom Snyder, a software developer, wrote in a 1999 article predicting the future of educational technology:

“A presidential commission has been established to study the growing inequity in computer allocation. Apparently, most computers are being used to deliver instruction to poor kids in the inner-city schools, putting these students at a clear disadvantage. All the best jobs and places in incoming college classes are going to applicants who were ‘fully teacher taught'.” from “Technology, Trends, and Gizmos: A Timeline for the ’90s and Beyond” Technology & Learning, September 1990, 92-98. 

As it turns out, Synder is partially right. The poor have access to computers; the affluent have individual devices and human teachers who know how to use them constructively.

I would hate to see personalization turned into a dirty word in education, when its concept is so important. Let's call programmed instruction what it is - depersonalized instruction - and fight to keep it from being called personalized.

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Reader Comments (1)

Personalized learning thrives in this technology-rich environment, but is insufficient on its own to revolutionize a student’s classroom experience. Teachers can be the guides that shape educational experiences for their students, helping them engage with learning tools that will enrich and support deeper learning, including different types of technology. Teachers also can use technology platforms to support data-driven learning like never before, personalizing learning to students’ interests, passions, strengths, and needs.

February 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSolutions

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