Personalized learning is a key component of how education can be enhanced within the classroom, and all other learning environments for that matter. Every learner comes to the table with some sort of background or history that will direct them in their future progress. Some learners enter the classroom with the necessary foundation, others are far from that foundation and the remainder fall somewhere in-between. Is it fair to any of the students for the instructor to select a point on the spectrum and start teaching all students from that point and at the same pace? I would argue, “no”. With this method there are students who are immediately left behind, and there are other students who learn nothing because they are already far ahead of the selected starting point. At first, teaching with the personalized method in mind may seem more challenging, time consuming and resource intensive, but in the long run it can be sustainable and more importantly, provide better outcomes for the learners.
Fortunately, we have advancing technologies available to help lessen the burden on instructors wishing to experiment with personalized learning. As explored within Richard Culatta’s 2013 TedTalk, technology can certainly play at part in the sustainability of personalized learning. Culatta displays highly sophisticated computer systems that utilized algorithms to dictate the lessons students will interact with each day. These systems may not be widely available to teachers, but the work of Song, Wong and Looi shows how similar techniques can be utilized with the resources that are often already available to a high percentage of learning environments. Their study focused on “Fostering personalized learning in science inquiry supported by mobile technologies” and their techniques fostered engagement in the real-world environment, mobile technologies, inquiry, making and personalized learning. The KWL tool utilized within this study employed mobile technologies before and after real-world learning experiences to measure levels of inquiry allowing “students to reflect before and after the learning process, K stands for “what I know”, W stands for “what I want to know”, and L stands for “what I have learned”” (Song, Wong, Looi, p. 868). By examining prior knowledge and building from that foundation, the learners in this study were able to build their own personalized portfolios. This maker-type project required skills across disciplines and allowed learners to display their strengths as well as their growth in other areas.
One of the major components of personalized learning is the importance of mastering knowledge so that the learner can evolve to the next level within the content area. I found a study by Hwang, Sung, Hung, Huang and Tsai that supported my previous statement, but I would also like to challenge part of their study. This study focuses on the development of a personalized educational computer game based on students’ learning styles. The researchers created a game for learning plants and the game included two modes for different learning styles. The two learning styles examined included sequential style learners and global style learners. I would argue that the global style learners within the study were actually the same as sequential style learners. The only difference is that global style learners chose the order of content exploration, but I observed that choosing the order of the content examined by this study does not make a difference because the order of learning the content does not disrupt the building of the foundational knowledge. The study even states, “It should be noted that, in this learning activity, there is no specific logical order suggested by the teacher for learning the plants” (Hwang, Sung, Hung, Huang and Tsai, p. 628). Though I bring up this point, I appreciate the teaching methods highlighted within the study. Students were given the opportunity to learn in increments and there were elements of personalization. It is key to consider each student as an individual and support their knowledge growth from their unique juncture.
In tying my research to maker education, I have found that many maker type assignments have a side effect of causing personalized learning. When students make something, it is nearly impossible for it not to be personalized. The level of freedom within the maker movement often allows students to create something that interests them and reflects their level of understanding. Similarly, the Song, Wong and Looi study, which includes observation of students on a scientific field trip utilizing mobile devices, encourages “tracing students’ learning path through the artifacts and slides created by the students and KWL work in different learning activities from the beginning to the end of the field trip” (Song, Wong, Looi, p. 690). In challenging the traditional classroom, I question if learners can become more highly educated by following a strict curriculum, or by working with a mentor in the environment where the content lives. Organization and building foundation is key, but what do we lose by making each step the same for every student along the way?
Fadel, Charles. (2011). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/21st_century_skills#/media/File:Framework_for_21st_Century_Learning.jpg
Hwang, G., Sung, H., Hung, C., Huang, I., & Tsai, C. (2012). Development of a personalized educational computer game based on students’ learning styles. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(4), 623-638. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23271608
Song, Y., Wong, L., & Looi, C. (2012). Fostering personalized learning in science inquiry supported by mobile technologies. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(4), 679-701. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23271611
TEDx Talks. “Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet.” Online video. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 July 2016.