June 30th, 2014 by Dan Meyer
All learning is personalized in virtue of the fact that it is accomplished by a person for him or herself. This may seem like a pedantic point, but if the whole point of creating the term is to focus on fitting the education to the student rather than the other way around, then it’s important to be clear about agency. What we really want to talk about, I think, is “personalized education” or, more specifically, “personalized instruction.”
Mike Caulfield described the value of structured discussion and how current personalized learning technologies undermine it:
… if there is one thing that almost all disciplines benefit from, it’s structured discussion. It gets us out of our own head, pushes us to understand ideas better. It teaches us to talk like geologists, or mathematicians, or philosophers; over time that leads to us thinking like geologists, mathematicians, and philosophers. Structured discussion is how we externalize thought so that we can tinker with it, refactor it, and re-absorb it better than it was before.
Is personalization orthogonal to structured discussion? That’s debatable, I suppose.
In practice, do the current forms of personalization in vogue (see, for instance, Rocketship) undermine the ability of a skilled teacher to run productive structured discussions?
Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind.
Alex Hernandez claimed I set up a false choice between personalized learning paths and structured discussion:
Students can engage in personalized learning for a portion of the day and spend the rest of their time in rich learning activities that only teachers can provide. The bet here is that if students can drive their development of background knowledge, teachers can “trade up” and focus their energies on challenging tasks and compelling experiences.
Kevin Hall, one of the most useful foils I have at this blog, described a particular form of personalization:
Different groups could do the task with the same or isomorphic data sets in different contexts: sports, movies, etc. [..] My guess is ed tech will have us to this point relatively soon, don’t you think?
Trying to make the material relevant to students’ interests doesn’t work. As I noted in Chapter One, content is seldom the decisive factor in whether or not our interest is maintained.
And Benjamin Riley, after starting this whole fire, tossed on another can of kerosene.