Personalized Learning and EdTech: What Really Works?

Personalized Learning is a Big Picture Concept

As we discussed in another of our blog posts called Defining Personalized Learning,”  there are many components and approaches to this very broad term. It’s not one-size-fits-all; there is no “personalized learning” policy manual that says a school or a teacher should perform in any specific way to ensure the delivery of a “personalized learning experience” to its students.

See What Education Experts Say About the Role of Tech in Personalized Learning 

In this EdSurge article titled Does Tech Support Personalized Learning — or Distract Us From What’s Really Important?” three experts in the field of education research participated in an EdSurge panel to answer this provocative question. Quotes from the panel discussion are contained in the article and there’s also a link to a an audio podcast version.

The main takeaways are as follows:

1. Personalized Learning is a broad “umbrella term” that the education community has given up trying to define. It includes various phases and approaches to differentiation and student voice and choice, many times with a technological component. However, the use of technology is not essential to the concept of personalized learning.
2. Personalized learning isn’t so much about the technology that is available, but rather the ideas that should be built around it — the who, what, when, where, and why. Without purpose, without knowing what a school or district hopes to measure and how it wants its students to feel about their learning experience — then the tech becomes an accessory that can quickly muddle an entire personalized learning initiative.
3. On the other hand, if the appropriate tool is found, it can be powerful. Much success has been had when schools districts lean on one or two core pieces of technology as opposed to bringing in every flashy edtech tool on the market. The greatest edtech triumphs occur when the consumer has a clear picture of what success looks like within the context of the target initiative, and then is able to use the data gleaned from the tool to close learning gaps in a more efficient, targeted, and personal way than before the initiative began.
4. Edtech tools are ubiquitous, some are over-promising, and there are just too many choices to really know what will work. The tool-finding becomes easier when a district assembles a core team in the early stages of their personalized learning plan, so that these core members can collaboratively rapid-test various solutions and weigh in on the impact and the pros and cons of each tool. Having just one eager and enthusiastic teacher whose mission it is to champion school edtech initiatives will likely lead to short-sighted decision making that doesn’t serve the whole population, and a crash-and-burn effect where the personalized learning initiative becomes a supernova of distraction that simply crumbles and isn’t brought back again. Personalized learning and edtech are still territories that many teachers approach with trepidation, so, for maximum buy-in and success, these plans must be designed to scale.
In short, personalized learning, to be done right, takes thoughtful planning from the earliest stages. Only once goals, a mission, and a picture of success are defined, can a cohesive team begin to evaluate tech tools to support the mission of creating a student-centered learning experience that builds bridges where bridges were needed.