The mobile, connected, personal technology of the digital age is now an integral part of the American (and worldwide) education system. The insurgence of technology into education has, in turn, introduced "neomillennial" learning styles among students. Such learning is now prevalent enough to be formally grouped under three categories -- personalization, differentiation and individualization. According to The U.S. Department of Education's 2010 Education Technology Plan, the three types differ as follows -- personalization is when the lessons are tailored to learning preferences and specific interests of the individual learner, differentiation involves tailoring to the learning preferences of groups of learners and individualization is when instruction is paced to the learning needs of different learners.
While educators have, even in the past, adopted methods to differentiate and individualize instruction, to meet students' learning needs and goals, the integration of technology offers a wider scope for personalization, whereby, each individual's intent, interest and learning profile are addressed through identification of content, process and product. Little wonder that Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) have integrated technology with the psychology of learning. Personalization in education allows students to claim complete ownership of their education and alters the traditional dynamics between the teacher and taught. It entails the design of experiences that allow students to make choices about what and how they will learn; this freedom encourages students to not only become more engaged, but also assert ownership and take pride in their learning outcomes. The personalized environment also offers teachers considerable flexibility in meeting educational standards, especially in skills-based subjects, such as math and arts.
Although it appears that integrating personalized education into the K12 education is a costly affair, it is, surprisingly, not so. In 2010, Project RED (Revolutionizing EDucation), instituted by the Greaves Group, The Hayes Connection and One-to-One Institute, identified and prioritized the factors that make some U.S. K-12 technology implementations perform dramatically better than others. The survey showed that an investment of $298 per student per year on moving from a traditional classroom to a one-to-one classroom results in a potential savings of more than $400 per student per year.
It has been claimed that students engaged in personalized learning are more academically successful than the ones engaged in traditional classroom lectures, especially when a range of technologies is used to build the online personalized environment. However, the use of successful personalized learning programs within the boundaries of traditional learning, aka classrooms, hinges on the provision of uniform levels of functionality for all students, regardless of their unique abilities. This, however, in itself, is an antithesis to "personalization", and runs the risk of falling into the murky regions of mass marketing.
Ideally, in personalized learning, technology tools must be used by which students can work outside their schools and out of school hours, either individually, or may collaborate, interact, and communicate with peers and teachers. The use of technology out of school hours is built on the premise of availability of expanded internet/device access for immersive learning. Schools can use their purchasing power to negotiate lower-cost licenses and contracts for digital content and online courses that students can use at home. Alternately, schools can extend the learning period in campus.
Another challenge to designing personalized learning programs is that it must help students achieve Common Core standards. Rigorous online exercises that encourage frequent assignments, along with structured feedback, can help match Common Core testing environments. School systems that aim to use technology for personalizing education must necessarily build a base of flexible teachers, adequate financing, and regular self-evaluations in order to align with the common core standards. Regular formative assessments are also essential in order to check compliance to common core standards. Organizations such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium offer K-12 assessments of the Common Core State, which are more secure, and adaptive and provide students appropriate questions based on their responses.
Technology also offers invaluable tools for individualization especially for at-risk children. Technology allows interactive programs that allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations. Significant improvements in achievement and engagement are possible among underserved students in learning environments augmented by technology that engages them in interactive learning and offers multiple representations of ideas and real-time digital feedback. Indeed, a study of at-risk high school students in Texas showed that interactive environments helped them learn better than traditional lecture, note taking, drill and practice. However, a 2014 report entitled "Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students' Learning", by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) warns that technology that emphasizes practice drills can negatively affect students, necessitating choice of well-designed interactive programs by the educators. The report also stresses on the importance of not replacing teachers by technology, but blending instruction with technology that allow students to solve problems on their own or in collaboration with other students.
The role of assistive technology in reducing barriers to learning for students with a variety of special needs and challenges cannot be overstated. A number of online resources are available to help educators identify and locate appropriate technological tools and devices for students with special needs.
The success of the marriage of technology and education hinges on effective leadership at all levels of society. Community engagement is for design of initiatives and ensuring compliance. Teachers, administrators, parents, students and educational policy makers must work together on a range of assessment tools in order to optimize school operations and budgetary allocations for technology insertion into education. Most importantly, all stakeholders must recognize that personalization of education is not about education sans teachers; it is, rather, all about learning with teachers, but more efficiently, effectively and successfully.
Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger who researches and writes on the dynamics of technology, education, teaching, and the process of pedagogy.
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