What is personalised learning? At the moment it is a bit of a buzzword – with many people hoping it will transform schools in the 21st century, while the skeptics see it as just another passing phase.

It is not easy to get a clear definition of the concept – there is the idea of "individualised" learning, where pupils are placed alone at a computer or left to their own devices, while others prefer “customized” or “tailored”  learning, somewhere between mass learning and individualised learning. The key idea though is that technology can help personalise learning by guiding students through new material as and when they are ready to move on – at their own pace and following more of their own interests, using their preferred learning styles. Many drives towards more technology in schools are geared to support the push for personalised learning.

However, it is NOT about putting individual students in front of PCs for CAI (computer-assisted learning) – this form is unlikely to involve any deep learning; it is based on a ‘telling’pedagogy, and steers well away from any collaboration or socially constructed meaning.  It should rather include opportunities like virtual field trips, online learning communities and lessons delivered remotely by world-class experts - with pupils able to design their own lessons to suit their individual needs.

But our school ‘system’ generally works against any truly personalized forms of learning – either because of syllabus constraints, standardised assessment, and even compulsory attendance. So how can teachers work within this system?  Students today have information at their fingertips 24/7,  and are used to flexibility in choices and customized options (online) – and we need to be looking for ways in which education can match this – by giving learners more choices.  That is the real basis of personalized learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a popular tool for this – where common skills are taught and learned but students choose their own areas of interest, while working together with others (family / peers / community) to solve common problems.  So students are encouraged to identify a problem, consider the tools that can be used to help develop an awareness of the problem, and then plan actions that will help find solutions. This means developing goals and a specific plan of action to meet them.  A recent example I read about concerned the problem of the 300 000 tons of plastic debris floating in our oceans, and a 20-year-old student who came up with a viable solution to clean this all up. (See www.theoceancleanup.com for more information, and an inspiring reason to embrace this way of learning.)

As teachers, do some problem identification with your learners, harnessing their own interests and concerns, and working together to find ways to solve such problems. Tie their projects into key skills that they need to learn – whether it be literacy, numeracy, social science or lifeskills, building on curricular requirements in a meaningful and authentic way. Through this process, one naturally moves into a climate of personalized learning – and students have access to information, communities of practice, expert thinking, collaboration and much more via the online tools at their disposal.
No time, you say? Syllabus to be covered? Experiment with new learning models like the flipped classroom as ways of accommodating this - discussed in an earlier blog (Aug 2014).

Categories: Technology Trends

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