At its core, learning is ultimately a personal experience. Some students learn best from what they hear, others from what they see, and others through physical interaction. Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning are three broad categories some educators have subscribed to, and they’ve often been challenged to effectively incorporate all three to meet a wide range of student preferences. As a result, educators are looking to create individualized or personalized learning experiences where each student can leverage his or her preferred style to best learn and demonstrate new knowledge and skills.
New, tech-enabled tools mean teachers can provide students with a wider array of options catered to learning preferences and student strengths. Although the options are many, it is helpful to note a few examples. Visual learners can benefit from free tools such as StoryJumper, which is a storybook creator tool that allows students to create their own storybooks and share with others. Digital notebooks, such as Microsoft Office OneNote, are also a visual way to help students express their thoughts in situations where students typically struggle with organization. Auditory learners can benefit from tools that help record lectures for playback, editing, and studying later. Kinesthetic learners can benefit from advances in constructivist learning experiences enhanced with technology, such as robotics and makerspaces. There is no shortage of opportunities; it is just a matter of identifying which ones work best for each student, teacher, and classroom.
With the increasing demands on teachers, finding effective means to implement successful assessment and instructional model for personalized learning can be daunting. Technology has the potential to play a critical role in enabling personalized learning through data collection, analysis, and assessment frameworks. Daniel W. Rasmus, founder of Serious Insights and strategy teacher at Pinchot University recently wrote for GeekWire, summarizing what technology could do for personalized learning initiatives:
“With technology, learning can be consumed at the pace of the learner, content can be delivered employing the most appealing media, auxiliary material and refreshers on concepts are just a click away, and assessments integrate with the flow. Sophisticated technology supports competency, not just adequacy – and fellow students, mentors, and faculty can all be reached by e-mail at minimum, and often though more sophisticated collaboration technology.”
In an environment packed with technology options, it can be helpful for teachers to have a starting point, or an idea of where technology can help – and how. In “Data: The Guide on the Path to Personalized Learning for ALL Students,” authors Susan A. Gendron and Scott Traub highlight suggested steps to achieving personalized learning, encouraging data tools to facilitate each stage. The key steps that they list include “understanding the situation, defining goals and articulating an accountability system, strategic and tactical lesson planning for each student, assessing and documenting learner growth, and applying data analysis for strategic personalized learning recalibration.”
Despite the promise of big data to support personalized learning, privacy-related issues remain. Jeff Alderson, principal analyst at Eduventures, writes:
Even with challenges in the mix, personalization is a desirable outcome for educators. It has the potential to propel students further individually and classrooms further collectively. So what can you do to bring more personalized learning opportunities to your classroom?
Find focus. Look ahead to desired outcomes – what do you want individualized learning to mean for students? You have to start somewhere, and it’s important to have goals in mind.
Explore differences. Take note of different learning styles and student preferences as you observe them, and provide creative outlets to accommodate those preferences. There are plenty of tools available today, widely and freely – once you know what your classroom’s needs are, do the research and explore the options.
Take risks. Like many aspects of education, creating personalized learning is an iterative process. Continue to approach personalized learning in different ways, take risks, make note of what works and what doesn’t work, and adjust accordingly.
Collaborate. There are a lot of educators working toward similar goals. Show interest in the successes and failures of other classrooms, and share your own experiences. What is the failure of one class might be the success of another, and vice versa.
Be aware. Participate in conversations around data capture, privacy, and security, and work to understand parent and student concerns. Knowledge is power, and staying on top of relevant concerns will help you to address them to the best of your ability.
1. “How personalized learning can reshape education: Insights from a special Gates Foundation panel” GeekWire. October 17 2015.
2.“Personalized Learning – It’s All About the Data (If You Can Get It)” Eduventures. October 9 2015.
3.“Data: The Guide on the Path to Personalized Learning for ALL Students” International Center for Leadership in Education. 2015.