Understanding Personalized Education in Schools

Personalized learning is widely debated among educators. While I am not writing this as an expert in this area, I want to use this opportunity to begin a dialogue with readers about personalized learning – what are your thoughts, experiences, practices, hopes?

In recent years, a great deal of attention and investment has gone into pushing initiatives and software by Silicon Valley in utilizing technology to enable personalized learning. This has been met with varying degrees of criticism (for more on this, you can check out this Education Week article by Benjamin Herold.) In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic propelling the shift to online learning, the suggestion that it’s a “good time” to try-out tech-driven personalized learning is reemerging. Even so, the start of the academic year has been met with varying degrees of success. Schools and communities that have a robust digital learning culture and infrastructure are thriving while underserved communities with the lack of access to devices and connectivity are suffering greatly, thus the learning gap is becoming (scarily) increasingly wider. 

The definition and approach to personalized learning vary from educator to educator and from organization to organization – it really depends on your pedagogical viewpoint.  In practice, we can be talking about the introduction of a platform/software that guides students through different learning journeys built on an algorithm, or to some schools, a loose pedagogical framework in whole-school curriculum redesigns. 

According to Herold, we can summarize this model as follows:

  • Personalized learning can be tailored to students’ strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest
  • Pace and instruction are used to design for each individual
  • Technology is greatly leveraged to track and measure student learning and develop “learner profiles”
  • Educational tech tools are used to develop a student”s “learner profile” to help customize educational content

Too often, nowadays, we try to find a tech solution to all that we do and often begin to lose focus on what is most important. Personalized learning is not about technology. Let us not forget the power and importance of teacher-student relationships and our role as teachers in inspiring and being beacons to our learners. The human element in our learning environments, be it in-person or virtual is more important than ever in these uncertain times. 

Paul Emerich France, author of Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classrooms (2019) debunks five common myths about personalized learning and a great comparison between a “humanized” versus “dehumanized” approach to personalized learning. I find these two resources particularly helpful to refer to when I find myself needing to refocus my pedagogical approach when creating and improving our programs at BSD Education

From Paul Emerich France, Reclaiming Personalised Learning (Corwin Press, 2019)
From Paul Emerich France, Reclaiming Personalized Learning (2019); Barbara Bray, Rethinking Learning (2019).

It is easy for us to say just use some software to guide our learners through their learning journey, but France’s resources remind us to dive deeper and consider wider perspectives and circumstances when we plan our curriculum because too often, students just simply need to know that you are there for them and to inspire them – something no algorithm can replace.

What are your strategies when it comes to personalizing education in your classrooms and schools? What are your struggles? How can we better humanize your journey in bringing digital skills learning into your classrooms?

You can reach me at ey@bsd.education at any time to continue the dialogue I want to hear from you!

about Eva
Eva is the Director of Education at BSD. She previously worked for a womens magazine but decided to blend her passion of Media and Education. She provides engaging opportunities for students to learn through authentic curricular experiences.
Eva found her calling in Education when she left her job at a Canadian women's magazine in 2012 to join the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme to teach English at an agricultural high school in rural Japan. Blending her passion in Media Studies and Education, she later returned to Hong Kong to pursue a Master of Education at the University of Hong Kong followed by a PGCE with the University of Sunderland.

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