The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The Trouble with “Personalized Learning” Programs is that They Aren’t Personal

on January 25, 2017

Over the past several months I have been reading articles to help me understand just what Personalized Learning really is and how it is being implemented in schools across the country. Today I feel confident enough to attempt to explain those things and give my opinions.

In addition, you may want to re-read a piece I wrote earlier:”My Reaction to the Concept of Personalized Learning“, posted on October 29th, 2016.  You can also find it in “The Treasure Hunter” archives.

Like many other educators I feel that calling some new commercial programs for students “Personalized Learning” is a misleading term. All of the programs I have read about are pieces of technology that claim to be appropriate for students of different abilities, goals, or interests. However, none of them is truly personal because students cannot choose what they will study or how; nor are they empowered to refuse a teacher’s choice of a topic or a program.

With most of the programs the teacher’s main role is to determine which piece of technology each student should be using; also when and how. In addition, a teacher is expected to give students advice or assistance with a program as they work through it. However, at least one program I read about is quite different, expecting teachers to interview all their students at the beginning of the school year and create records of their academic strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and goals. Using this information the teacher decides which level of the program is right for each student, and all of them get to work on their own, although the teacher stands ready to advise any one who is struggling or has questions. About every two weeks the teacher holds a conference with each student to assess his or her progress and provide guidance for moving on. With this type of program the teacher acts as a consultant and counselor, and, apparently does none of the whole class teaching that has been the tradition for so long.

In still another type of program all students work with their assigned programs at the same time for  90 minutes a day. When they are finished, each one fills out an “exit slip”, which is a brief quiz on their understanding of what they had been working on. Their answers to that quiz are evaluated and then the teacher decides what each student should work on the next day.

The reality I see in these programs is that they are far from being personal. The concepts of what various students need and want to learn were originally determined by publishing company workers  far removed reality and committed to creating programs that will fit a type of student, not an individual. Although I do not doubt the knowledge or skills of the producers, I believe that inevitably their products are “One size fits many.”

Several experts agree and have spoken out for changes in the programs’ names or  different types of programs. They have no problem with the wide use of technology in the classroom, but they believe it should be used differently for real learning. Elliot Soloway, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan is one of those experts who has spoken out against the existing programs and suggested what true personalized learning should be: “They are nothing more than tailoring the reading of texts to students of different abilities—rather than personalizing a mix of activities that give students a richer and more meaningful educational experience.”

Of course I agree. Although my years as a teacher and a school principal are long past, I st understand that education is, and rightly should be, influenced by changes in the world and its inhabitants.  Although programs labeled “Personalized Learning” aren’t the answer we have been waiting for, the real one may be just around the corner.


3 responses to “The Trouble with “Personalized Learning” Programs is that They Aren’t Personal

  1. I invite you to take a look at LiFT™. With this personalized learning platform, students choose what and how they will study. AND – if implemented within a school culture allows it – are even empowered to refuse a teacher’s choice of a topic or a program. Full discloser – It is for these reasons that I am a consultant to

    Liked by 1 person

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