Guide on Personalized Learningby Becton Loveless
Personalized learning adds a twist to the traditional teaching formula. In the past, students often had one curriculum and the projects they completed were all basically the same. This started to change in the 21st century as there was an increasing shift toward personalizing learning. Specifically, teaching to students shifted to accommodate people of different learning levels in the classroom, particularly as special needs students were integrated into the class environment.
Personalized learning takes this approach to the next logical step. At its core, the philosophy of personalized learning suggests that there is no such thing as an average student and that each student needs tailored instructions and challenges. Only by applying personalized instruction to each individual student can learning be best encouraged among students.
Reporting for Education Week, Sean Cavanagh noted that for many educators, personalized learning remained a difficult approach to implement. While they understood the general concept, teachers felt it was difficult to actually integrate personalized learning. Many felt it was difficult to connect the concept to their practices.
Personalized learning is, at its core, a curriculum personalized for each student. However, scholars also pointed to the importance of technology in empowering students. Through the use of digital tools, it’s possible to rethink entirely how classrooms are scheduled and structured. Using this approach, teachers shift from being lecturers to being facilitators, allowing students to independently engage with their materials and with one another.
Examples of Personalized Learning
The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) implemented personalized learning by assessing students’ strengths and interests. Children are given choices in what they are interested in learning and then go hands on with technology to become active in the learning process. The personalized classroom in the DISD is one where teachers allow students to engage independently with their materials while teachers act to support and guide students through work when necessary.
In other cases, teachers allow students to choose groups that they are interested in participating in, allowing them to choose groups where learning is done in a way that appeals to their strengths. Students can join a group where learning is mostly visual or auditory, as just one example. This provides students with options in how they will be taught and gives them ownership over their own learning process, allowing them to personalize their own education. Teachers continue to move between groups, facilitate lessons, and review each day’s work to ensure that students are continuing to progress.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), unsurprisingly, heavily emphasizes the role that technology can play in personalized learning. The ISTE places an emphasis on using technology in the class, but it also acknowledges that you have to work within your limits and resources. You can’t pretend as if you have certain pieces of technology. You have to work with what you’ve got.
In some classrooms, there may be a computer for every student. In other cases, there may be a limited set of iPads for you to use. In either case, it’s important for you to design lessons and projects that play to the strengths of the technology available to you. If that means allowing students to use their cell phones to look up information, then so be it.
To be effective, you have to know what technology is available to you. Different software performs different roles. If you’re using technology to enhance personalized learning, choose that software that will make your lessons as targeted as possible. In the example provided by the ISTE, educators used software that broadcast the instructor’s voice instead of having students click through PowerPoint lessons. Videos allowed students to scroll forward and backward as they needed whenever they missed points of the lesson.
Choosing the right software can help students use technology in a way that mirrors their lessons in a traditional class setup. When done right, technology-based learning still allows the student to choose the activities they want to participate in and approach learning at a pace they feel comfortable with. In this way, a traditional classroom and a technology enhanced classroom can mirror one another with regards to how they empower students to choose their activities and groups that match their learning style.
The trap that an educator cannot fall into is the lure of implementing technology for the sake of using it. When choosing any form of technology, ask yourself a simple question: why am I using this technology? If you have no clear answer, you’ll want to rethink your choices and find alternatives that might help make lessons more personal. Effective integration of technology comes down to the choices you make as an educator.
Examples of Software in Personalized Learning
There are several examples of software you might want to consider using in the classroom. A few of these include the following:
- Knewton: This software tracks a student’s performance and modifies their lessons based on that performance. This is a perfect example of software that adapts to students, personalizing the lesson for them by meeting them at their level.
- Newsela: When students are researching, they may find themselves challenged by materials outside their reading level. Newsela delivers a personalized reading experience that matches the student’s reading level and delivers content from highly reputable sources.
- Realizeit: This learning system tailors a learning environment to students at their content level. Students are required to stick with a topic until they’ve shown adequate competency in that topic. This is an example of software that scaffolds the learning for students as they demonstrate increasing mastery.
Importantly, there is no single form of software that can make for ideal personalized learning. Instead, software is like any other tool. A variety of tools can help students learn in a variety of ways. The same applies to software, and having a variety of software can help students choose different methods of learning in ways that are tailored to them.
Personalized learning requires educators to really know not only their students, but the tools they have available. Curriculum should be tailored, as much as possible, to appeal to each student in the class. In a traditional classroom, this means making as many activities and groups as possible so that students can decide what groups most appeal to them and what activities they feel best matches their learning style. The goal is always to have these lessons and groups guide students toward grasping their lessons and achieving mastery in ways that play to a student’s strengths.
Technology has made this slightly easier. Today, there is more education software available than ever, and each piece of software serves a different purpose. Even here, though, it’s important for teachers to understand what each piece of software does and how it can help achieve learning goals. At each stage of constructing personalized learning, it’s important for educators to ask why they’re choosing the tools and approaches that they’re using. By doing so regularly, they can more effectively create tailored, personalized lessons for their students.
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