Benjamin Riley offers two reasons related to cognition and learning why we shouldn’t attempt to personalize student learning. Here’s his second:
This is also why I think it’s a mistake to place children in charge of the speed of their learning, particularly during the early years of their education. If left to decide for themselves, many kids – and particularly those from at-risk backgrounds – will choose a relatively slow velocity of learning (again, because thinking is hard). The slow pace will lead to large knowledge deficits compared to their peers, which will cause them to slow down further, until eventually they “switch off” from school. The only way to prevent this slow downward spiral for these students is to push them harder and faster. But they need to be pushed, which means we should not cede to them control of the pace of their learning.
My own argument against personalized learning is that — in Audrey Watters’ fine formulation — it “circumscribes pedagogical possibilities.” Which is to say, a lot of fun learning in math class — argument, discussion, and debate chief among them — is
impossible very difficult when you aren’t learning it synchronously with a group. Riley’s argument adds new dimensions to those concerns.
BTW. I left my own version of Riley’s second argument on Will Richardson’s blog, a forum where the value of student-personalized curriculum is, IMO, too often assumed to be utterly obvious and questioned only by cowards and cranks. Rather than spending his time tangling with anonymous Internet commenters, I’d like to know how a thoughtful technologist like Richardson would engage a critic like Riley.
2014 Jun 24. Mike Caulfield:
I often warn about overgeneralizing across disciplines but let me overgeneralize across disciplines here: 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 and refactor it.
2014 Jun 25. Alex Hernandez writes a thoughtful rebuttal.