April 2, 2016

Blended and Personalized Learning Conference

I wanted to attend this conference as technology is once again being heralded as the source for individualizing learning and this seemed like a good conference to get some updates on what is happening in schools. 

Lunchtime speaker Richard Culatta, former head of the US Office of Technology Education and recently named Rhode Island's first Chief Innovation Officer talked about being very careful about the words we use in describing "personalized learning". The definition in the recent National Technology Plan is the following:
Personalized learning refers to instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) all may vary based on learner needs. In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated. (tech.ed.gov/netp/)
This definition sounds more like our efforts to implement Genius Hour based on individual student passion for learning than the companies that are providing branching learning using algorithms that are largely unproven and untested. In a recent blog post Alfie Kohn spoke to the use of "personalized" vs. "personal" learning:
If you haven’t given much thought to the kind of intellectual life we might want schools to foster, then it might sound exciting to “personalize” or “customize” learning. But as I argued not long ago, we shouldn’t confuse personalized learning with personal learning. The first involves adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores, and it requires the purchase of software. The second involves working with each student to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests, and it requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well. (http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/ed-tech/)
As I ponder this new trend I find that I continue to be dubious about the potential for corporate solutions for meeting the cognitive needs of our students. While I think that there is a place for online practice and even tutorials, the time must be allotted for teachers to review student progress, meet with students and work closely with colleagues to determine the learning paths for students.

As an update, today (4/26/16) Will Richardson posted about his concerns about personalized learning "products".