Rethinking Technology to Enable Personalized Learning

 

This week we took a deeper look into how technologies can support learning. As clearly addressed by Culatta, there is a significant “digital divide” that exists among educators today. He defines these two groups as, “those who know how to use technology to reimagine learning and those who use technology to digitize traditional learning practices.” This statement and overarching theme of Culatta’s presentation really resonated with me as I thought about the most popular learning theories and practices being buzzed about in the education field today.  Like Culatta’s big focus, personalized learning is at the forefront of most discussions about what teaching and learning should look like in order to prepare today’s students for success in the future.

Although personalized learning may be seen as the pinnacle of education today, many educators do not have a thorough understanding of what that means for developing learning experiences that meet the needs of each student.  I have heard time and time again variations of the misconception that personalized learning means every student has a device in their hands and utilizing online programs and, in turn, the learning experience will change and learning will improve.  While having a technology device available for every student can be beneficial, “the best hope for accelerating student achievement is by using a range of pedagogical and technological innovations that deliver personalized learning to each student” (Childress & Benson 2014).  The fallacy that technology is the answer improving student achievement is the root of our current digital divide.

Culatta outlined that through a personalized learning model, technology enables real-time feedback, variable pacing, learner agency, creates creators, enables mass customization and radically improves access.  These components are integral to not only meeting the learning needs of every student, but foundational to the transformation that needs to take place across the education system to improve student outcomes at scale. Like Culatta adamantly proclaimed, until we close the digital divide that plagues the education field today, we will not be able to truly solve the problems that our educational system continues to face.

Research by Basham, et al (2016) supports this notion that, “personalized learning requires a completely unique approach to the design, implementation, and assessment of learning” (p. 134). Educational technology should enhance each of these elements. Like Culatta’s testament that technology should enable real-time feedback, this team of researchers emphasized the importance of teachers using technology to help manage and utilize student data from, for example, online instructional programs, to drive instruction on a real-time basis to generate personalize learning pathways for every student.

Culatta also explained how technology can radically improve student access to learning experiences. This statement was particularly powerful to me as I am a former blended learning in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. Although we were using a blended learning model during the school day, learning often came to a halt at 3:15 because the vast majority of our students lacked technology and internet capabilities at home.  This extension of the learning environment could have significantly improved our students’ achievement, but we were bound by this constraint. I was delighted to learn from Childress and Benson’s research that the school models that they examined, “break down traditional school walls, allowing students to access digital content and lessons online so they can learn anytime, anywhere” (p. 37).  We were unable to provide such experiences because we did not have the technology to provide this access to our students. Had I known about these schools’ methods for enabling access, I may have been able to create such a model at my own school. This is a prime example of Culatta’s digital divide.

Another transformative topic in education today is Maker Education where educators are working towards providing students opportunities to play and be makers and creators. Like Culatta explained, technology coupled with a personalized learning model can help develop students as creators. This element, too, underlines the digital divide. In order for teachers to personalize learning in a way that allows students to be creators, they must know how to use technology to reimagine learning activities.

Culatta and the other educational researchers that I learned from this week followed one common theme: technology is the tool that can help enable personalized learning, but technology should be reimagined to support and elevate each student’s learning experience.  Without realizing it at first, I began to make connections from my learning this week to my learning and activities from last week on Maker Education using my Makey Makey kit. We were tasked with creating an innovative learning experience using our maker kits and, until this week, I did not see the connection between personalized learning and my maker project. This activity was a prime example of how teachers can reimagine technology to engage students and elevate the learning experience in a meaningful way to make it personalized.

References:

Culatta, R. (2013, January). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet. Retrieved from: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Reimagining-Learning-Richard-Cu

Childress, S., & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized learning for every student every day.The Phi Delta Kappan, 95(8), 33-38. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24374606

Basham, J. j., Hall, T. E., Carter Jr., R. A., & Stahl, W. M. (2016). An Operationalized Understanding of Personalized Learning. Journal Of Special Education Technology, 31(3), 126-136.

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