October 02, 2020

Personalized learning is here to stay

Admit it. You were either one of those students at school who was way ahead of what was being taught in the classroom, and as a result, became easily bored. Or you were one of those students who was far behind of what was being taught, and hence became quickly discouraged to move on. If you were lucky, you were one of those students for whom the pace of teaching matched perfectly well. We were all stuck in a system with a “one size fits all” approach. Despite the focus on personalized learning and the technological advancements, some children today are still stuck in the same system – a monotonous instruction methodology followed by continuous assessments to test the knowledge gained.

How can this be any different especially when the average instructor to student ratio in most parts of the world is 1:30? How could the teacher possibly design an instruction method suited to every student’s preferences? Enter technology. You would be surprised to know that for centuries now, educators have been trying to personalize learning for children. By introducing technology, the shift to personalized learning has become easier and faster.

Let’s cut all the hullabaloo about personalized learning.

What does it really mean for the learner?

It could mean several things. If you were a learner, then personalized learning,

  • optimizes the pace of learning and the instructional approach as per your needs
  • delivers meaningful and relevant learning activities driven by your interests
  • accelerates your learning by contextual referencing
  • guides you on an individualized learning journey based on your strengths, skills and needs

Personalized learning is a teaching model based on the premise that children learn in different ways and at different paces. While EdTech companies have been aiding educators in this model, they have the responsibility to explain how their tool or product will help, for which students and under which conditions, especially since the term “personalized learning” is being overused and misused.

Before we address the impact of personalized learning, we need to understand…

How human learning works

In his book Contemporary Theories of Learning, Knud Illeris writes about the integration of two important processes in all human learning – an external process where the learner interacts with his or her environment and an internal psychological process of acquisition.  His constructed model of the field of learning looks something like this:

As you can see, this figure depicts the internal and external processes of learning. In the internal psychological process, there is an interplay between content and incentive, i.e., the function of managing the learning content and the incentive function of providing and directing the necessary mental energy that runs the process. The external interaction process is the vertical arrow placed at the bottom.

Wait a minute. Now how is all this remotely related to personalizing learning? Many tech companies that want to “personalize” learning for children, often deal only with one of these processes: internal or external. While it is not wrong to look at them individually, unfortunately, by looking at it from one angle, they are not covering the entire field of learning. For learning to become personalized, the field of learning must be looked at wholesomely.  When EdTech is looked at from this angle, it has immense potential to personalize learning in the true sense and create meaningful impact.

How do we shift the focus from Technology to Learning?

Personalized learning has said to increase student engagement, motivation, self-efficacy, critical thinking, and reliability. When students engage with the right material, it challenges them to get them to the next level. So many EdTech companies claim to provide personalized material for learning as per students’ needs. But how many of them do? Many EdTech companies use artificial intelligence into the learning management software to collect data on the student and present customized content.  They may personalize learning but are they making learning personal?

The research around developing the right technologies to personalize learning should be messy, trying new things, making mistakes, and starting in classrooms with students who might someday use the software. Educational research should feel more like a hackathon than a standardized test. For instance, at Eduzo, we give it plenty of time, space, and resources to nourish a research-focused culture. We focus on learner-centered design, and design solutions to look at the relationships between the learner and the subject, and their emotions and levels of engagement at each layer of learning. Lastly, we try to create an experience centered around discussion, feedback, and reflection.

We have turned outward to create a context-aware augmented reality-based system that adds value to the wider world of learning, leaving as much agency in the hands of the learner as possible. We are aware that input from educators and students is input from the experts, and we constantly take feedback and implement them in our research and design journey.

When personalized learning is more about the learner than about the technology, learning will become genuinely personal and personalized. It may look like a long way to go but sometimes it’s good to see how far we’ve come!

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