“Personalized Learning” is a term that is making headlines lately, both on social media and within education circles. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is getting in on the trend, by investing a whopping US$45 billion into an initiative that is focused on prioritizing personalized learning, among other charitable pursuits. But what is personalized learning, exactly, and why is it so important right now? We hope to shed some light on that in this post, and also illustrate how both teachers and students can benefit from it.
What We Know So Far
We’ve mentioned in previous posts how great our reliance on technology is at the present time, and while our devices and machinery have advanced exponentially to support our needs as a society, we also have derived other advantages that can be used to enhance ourselves on a more individualistic level. This is where personalized learning comes in. Based on various op-eds and write-ups, the jury is still out as to whether or not personalized learning is going to significantly alter the way kids learn. However, this could be due to a lack of a solid definition in place to describe exactly what it is. Some camps prefer to think it is merely focused on automated learning – that is, without the human touch and solely reliant on machines. Others look at it differently, as a means by which educators can cater to the individual needs and issues of students, by focusing on ways kids learn according to their personalities, and customizing lessons accordingly.
The Glossary of Educational Reform describes it as an alternative to traditional teaching methods, where diversity is celebrated and modern techniques supplement the learning experience. However, it is important to recognize they also note that the term has “broad implications” and it is challenging to strictly define a concept that has such vast potential that is still being tapped into as an asset. In fact, they reiterate throughout that whenever personalized learning is brought up, it is prudent to understand which kind is meant at that particular juncture. Despite the different understandings of the term, at the core, all incarnations of personalized learning should be mainly focused upon developing a meaningful understanding of how a student best learns.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and perhaps this statement is even more relevant when it comes to educating one. As with any new concept, it is natural for pros and cons to be heavily debated, but that doesn’t automatically mean that personalized learning has no potential. We’d like to think given the right foundation and with a proper amount of thought put into such a concept, it could be a wonderful addition to the learning tools of educators and learners. Additionally, with a prolific name like Zuckerberg’s at the forefront of an initiative catered to personalized learning, it isn’t difficult to see why this buzzword is gaining momentum – and how it can potentially be an important supplement to education.
It is natural for teachers to feel somewhat concerned by the notion of personalized learning if it means that devices will take over their jobs. However, it is crucial to note that while technology plays a vital role in the concept – especially where Zuckerberg’s name is involved, it is not going to totally replace humans. Instead, teachers and even parents can make full use of these technologies to aid in the learning process for their kids, and simplify it while ensuring their kids get the best variety of knowledge – both traditionally, and with new methods.
Striking a Balance
We must achieve a balance in how we teach and learn, as either extreme could potentially be detrimental. On the one hand, personalized learning that is too heavily reliant on technology may present problems in that teaching and learning will become ironically, depersonalized and mechanical. On the other hand, if we are too reliant on traditional methods of teaching, we risk losing out on creative ways for kids to learn and absorb information.
How then can we strike a balance when there are such a variety of options at hand? While the concept of personalized learning itself is still in its infancy, it is important to outline the ways in which we can compromise to reach a productive solution. As an example, one way could be for organizations that produce content for educational purposes such as textbook publications and those that are focused on digital media “edutainment”(i.e.: game developers) can collaborate to reap the best of both worlds. We are starting to see how this can work in the classroom, with companies like McGraw-Hill offering educators the option of customizable lesson plans.
Bridging the Gaps
The advent of personalized learning may very well cause an increase in online content pertaining to education, and while that will mean a broader variety of information and methods will be made available to the masses, it is necessary to sufficiently investigate these offerings to see if they can be improved to suit an environment where kids have more autonomy as students, and where the tasks of teachers will also evolve to act as mentors that will assess the needs of each student and guide them accordingly.
In our case, we started Zap Zap Math to ensure that kids have a fun avenue to learn Math, a subject which is often seen as “boring” or “difficult”. We hoped to change that viewpoint with a stress-free game-centric platform. That is the reason why our games are modular in nature, allowing kids to progress once they are familiar with the mathematical concepts presented in the gameplay. This can serve as a supplement to what they will learn in school, which probably takes on a more linear and traditional format, and progresses periodically (whether or not the child has a chance to catch up with the material).
While that can be considered a form of personalized learning, we also realize the need to continuously develop the app to adapt to the ever-changing needs of users. Through various discussions and as a result of feedback from users, we have come to realize the app itself has to evolve to better cater to the various needs of students, while allowing parents and teachers to remotely keep an eye on the progress and help them to improve their skills. It is our hope that concepts such as personalized learning will be appropriately implemented and executed, for the sake of the next generation, and those to come.
Want your students/children to give personalized learning a shot? Download Zap Zap Math today to give their math skills a ‘fun-tastic’ boost!