A Better Definition Of “Personalization”

David Wiley:

For me, personalization comes down to being interesting. You have successfully personalized learning when a learner finds it genuinely interesting. Providing me with an adaptive, customized pathway through educational materials that bore me out of my mind is not personalized learning. It may be better than forcing me through the same pathway that everyone else takes, but I wouldn’t call it personalized.

Held to that standard, most groups that are attempting to personalize learning through software are pretty screwed.

Jai Mehta:

But what I can tell you from visits to blended classrooms and schools, in both traditional public and charter schools, is that students tend to find what exists thus far as fairly dull, lacking both the community and the accountability that comes with good face to face learning. A number of students told us at one highly celebrated blended school that they liked everything about the school except for the online learning!

That last link via Justin Reich, who confidently predicts the results from the 2017 Khan Academy study.

Featured Comment

Jane Taylor:

Another aspect of personalization is the relationship between student and teacher, and I found that as blended learning decreased the amount of face to face whole class instruction in my class last year, I didn’t get to know my students as well and as quickly as I had in the past. When I know my students and find out what “works”, what engages, each particular group of students, as well what works for individual students, then my classroom can better meet individual needs, not just in the way I teach math, but in the way I encourage students to manage their time, to grow in their work ethic and study habits, to overcome math anxiety, and many other things. Whole class interaction is a lot of fun for me and, I believe, for students. Resources, such as videos, are great for motivated students to review or move ahead, and I will continue to provide them, but I am returning to primarily whole class instruction this year.

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school teacher, former graduate student, and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

15 Comments

  1. Kelly Stidham

    July 22, 2014 - 11:08 am

    I love both of the quotes because they speak to the point that learning should be minds-on, not just hands on. That contrary to popular belief, kids do care more for what they are thinking about – the quality and awe at their own questions and inquiry – than the shininess of the medium.

    Personalization isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure book of false choices along a pre-set path. It isn’t following along at my own pace. Personalization is honoring what kids bring to the table and partnering with them as they question, puzzle, make-meaning, and question further.

  2. Lisa

    July 22, 2014 - 3:07 pm

    My definition of “personalization” is simply….

    choice.

    Student-centered learning promotes interesting topics and objectives, but students can choose their own path. How many choices do children (and teachers) actually have these days in traditional schooling?

  3. Shaun Carter

    July 22, 2014 - 4:04 pm

    From what I’ve seen, ‘personalized teaching software’ seems to view learning as a linear progression of problems which students can either complete or not complete. From this perspective, personalization is as simple as placing students on that continuum. Then just throw questions and hints at the student until they ‘get it’.
    The key I see for personalizing the learning of my students is understanding how they think through problems, and identifying any misconceptions they have. Knowing they got certain questions right or wrong is not particularly the most helpful data for that.

  4. Erica

    July 23, 2014 - 3:15 am

    Hi Dan,

    Have you heard of LOGO, or Turtle Geometry? Do you think that’s interesting to most children or that’s just interesting for a small part of children?

    If you don’t know about it yet, here’s a book about it. It’s a very good read and it’s not long.

    Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas
    http://www.amazon.com/Mindstorms-Children-Computers-Powerful-Ideas/dp/0465046746

    LEGO’s Mindstorms robots are named after this book :)

  5. Brendan Murphy

    July 23, 2014 - 5:10 am

    There is a difference between personalization and individualization, though I often confuse which is supposed to be which, the difference in what you do in the classroom is tremendous.
    http://www.slideshare.net/bbray/personalizedlearninchart
    Most edtech companies attempt to personalize while I think good teachers try to individualize

  6. Sadler

    July 23, 2014 - 5:13 am

    There are many things in all subjects that won’t be initially or ever interesting to students – some people just don’t like pickles. Assuming that a student has a prepared set of preferences and interests in a subject is ludicrous and often students cannot tell until after they’ve learned something whether it is interesting or not. Unfortunately, bad experiences in maths will mean that some students will pre judge all topics as boring.

    What is important for personalisation is the ZPD where a student has enough support and incentive to become independent and make their own connections. Before that can happen, it is up to the teacher (or virtual teacher) to teach students to make connections by example or open questioning.

    Adaptive systems, therefore are trying to create that zone where students are comfortable to explore and challenged to widen their experience. If adaptive systems were perfect they might even induce flow given adequate rewards.

    (When was dieting, detox and colonic irrigation ever part of the maths curriculum?)

  7. Howard Phillips

    July 23, 2014 - 6:03 am

    Back in 1987 Logo was available for schools on the new BBC microcomputer. I didn’t have one of these so I wrote a simple version in Pascal for my son then aged 8 or 9. he had lots of fun, and his teacher was very impressed.
    I found today a site which teaches you how to use Logo, it is free and works in your browser:

    http://turtleacademy.com/index.php

  8. Brendan Murphy

    July 23, 2014 - 6:37 am

    Mr Sadler

    I respectfully disagree, at least in part. the Zone of Proximal Development is important, but education is more complex than that. Students are not necesarily motivated because they know they will actually be able to solve the problem.

    A motivated student can build his or her own scaffolding. A motivated student who doesn’t know how to learn might also get frustrated. So some emphasis on learning how to learn is important.

  9. Jane Taylor

    July 23, 2014 - 7:28 am

    Another aspect of personalization is the relationship between student and teacher, and I found that as blended learning decreased the amount of face to face whole class instruction in my class last year, I didn’t get to know my students as well and as quickly as I had in the past. When I know my students and find out what “works”, what engages, each particular group of students, as well what works for individual students, then my classroom can better meet individual needs, not just in the way I teach math, but in the way I encourage students to manage their time, to grow in their work ethic and study habits, to overcome math anxiety, and many other things. Whole class interaction is a lot of fun for me and, I believe, for students. Resources, such as videos, are great for motivated students to review or move ahead, and I will continue to provide them, but I am returning to primarily whole class instruction this year.

  10. Sadler

    July 23, 2014 - 7:33 am

    As exemplified in any game, (extrinsic) motivation and learning to learn are inherent in ZPD. That’s what proximal means in this context – everything required for learning is to hand. I didn’t say that confidence necessarily causes motivation, although it can.

    In any case, one needs more than motivation to build a scaffold – a student needs practice and examples of building connections and discounting spurious connections. Eventually, with maturity of thought, the student will make his/her own hypotheses.

    So, yes, mature self-motivated students with enough existing knowledge and skills to bridge and extrapolate is the goal but until then, external motivations, guided (personalised?) pathways, tricks and crutches are required to keep in the zone.

  11. Dan Meyer

    July 23, 2014 - 4:14 pm

    Very interesting comment from Jane, which I’ve pushed to the main post.

  12. Laura McKenzie

    July 24, 2014 - 2:40 pm

    My school will deliver a Chrome book to each student this year. No training and teachers have received a laptop not a Chrome book. Canvas a LOS was adopted last year, again training wasn’t anything other than how to create lists of assignments.
    I want to figure out how I can use the electronics for something other than a search engine and an unharmed lessons.

  13. Kyle Pearce

    July 25, 2014 - 7:28 pm

    Unsure if I can fully describe what personalization means to me, but I will continue to think about it. I believe I do know what personalization is not and it aligns with the opinions of both Dan and Justin Reich (see link to article in original post).

    There are so many online tools available for students to read, watch, learn and practice math that anyone can learn from anywhere. Unfortunately, I think the problems we face in mathematics education revolve around the fact that students simply don’t care about learning math. Those who are successful, typically follow rules and do as they are told, just as expected in a traditional math classroom. Those who are not, likely lost their curiosity for mathematics somewhere between grade 1 and 6. While these online tools are extremely innovative and personalized to the learner, those who could benefit from them the most will likely never utilize them.

    Simply put, online tools such as Khan Academy are your best option if you are unwilling to move away from a traditional mathematics education, but still lack the real personalization students need in a face-to-face classroom.