The Potential of Personalized Learning
As I reflect on my journey through the corridors of Oxford’s Education Master’s program, a story of possibility emerges – a story that transcends conventional boundaries and encourages us to reimagine education in a profound way.
Picture this: Nestled in a small and chaotic classroom, a teacher named Ms Nina stands at the helm of transformation. No longer is she confined by rigid lesson plans and standardized tests designed for the class as a whole. Instead, she is empowered with tools to unlock personalized learning for each child to transform her classroom into a thriving hub of exploration.
One morning, young Simon walks into Ms Nina’s class, his eyes bright with curiosity and a passion for shapes and numbers. Traditional education had, until recently, treated mathematics as an entity, failing to recognize Simon’s unique strengths and weaknesses within the subject and often labeling him as “good” with an A+ or “bad” with an F. Here, in this classroom, Ms Nina can gain an understanding of Simon’s specific challenge with pattern recognition. With the help of technology, she can address his personal challenge by embedding tailored practice into his learning journey. His mathematical strengths and weaknesses can be supported with immediate feedback loops and tailored activities to help him overcome him this obstacle.
Now imagine this for his whole class.
As weeks turn into months, Ms Nina’s classroom becomes a vibrant tapestry of individual interests. Each student has a unique path, a personalized map of mathematical exploration that caters to their strengths, ignites their passions, and addresses their challenges head-on. With the aid of technology, Ms Nina can monitor each student’s progress, adapting her approach to ensure no one was left behind. But personalized learning is not just about academics; it is about fostering a growth mindset. A mindset where students began to embrace challenges as opportunities, setbacks as stepping stones, and learning as an adventure to explore.
Today, we can see a future where Ms Nina’s classroom is and can be a reality for all students. Although there are many challenges to achieving personalized learning around the world today, from inequitable technology access, lack of affordability, and privacy challenges, there is still an opportunity. An opportunity to empower teachers and policymakers with a vision of what is possible and equip them with the tools to change. We need to ensure that we are adapting to the rapid technological change around us to help each child reach their unique capability.
To fully understand the potential of personalized learning, it is important to look deeper into the concepts and insights of technology-enabled learning and adaptive learning tools.
Teaching at the Right Level
Teaching children at the right level is paramount for a child’s educational development. Tailoring instruction to match a child’s current abilities and knowledge ensures engagement, prevents frustration, and helps fosters a love for learning. By addressing individual learning needs, educators create a foundation for confident and successful lifelong learners. Furthermore, improving teaching at the right level has been proven to be not only effective but a highly cost-effective intervention. The Global Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) released a 2023 report titled “Cost-effective Approaches to Improve Global Learning” and teaching at the right level has been proven to be one of the most cost-effective interventions supported by a strong body of evidence. Teaching at the appropriate level might appear straightforward in theory, yet the practical reality is that numerous children worldwide are not being instructed according to their actual learning levels.
Technology Enabled Learning
In the evolving landscape of education, technology stands as a powerful ally, revolutionizing the way we approach learning. As highlighted by the EdTech Hub, a renowned global research partnership, the essence of technology-enabled learning is the adaptive capacity to teach a diverse group of children at their optimal levels. Mere transference from traditional paper mediums to technological devices does not result in a transformative impact on educational outcomes. Rather, the true potential of technology lies in its utilization to cater to groups of children possessing diverse abilities, ensuring that each child is instructed according to their individual strengths and weaknesses.
In a world where technology can be viewed as threatening human interaction and job security, it is essential to be clear that technology facilitates learning, but the human connection and need for excellent teachers remain paramount. In fact, with technology, the role of the teacher can be elevated to that of a mentor, a guide, walking hand-in-hand with each student on their unique learning path.
Adaptive Learning Tools
One of the most remarkable strides in educational technology is the development of adaptive learning tools. These tools and software use data-driven insights and assessments to tailor lessons to each child’s unique learning style and pace. This is ground-breaking for the conservative field of education, where transformation is often met with resistance to change. Edmentum’s Exact Path is one such tool, which includes the core ingredients of individual assessment, self-paced learning, student agency and personalised data to help teachers provide targeted support.
Adaptive learning tools can be seen as life-changing for children falling behind or with special needs, as these children often require personalized attention, and adaptive applications provide an invaluable opportunity for children to grasp concepts at their own speed. Whether it’s in math, language, or social skills, adaptive tools have the potential to enhance learning to be more effective and enjoyable.
Where to from here?
The future trajectory of personalized learning remains uncertain; however, it is undeniable that advances in machine learning will persist in catalyzing innovations, fundamentally changing our perspective of how traditional education can and should operate.
I see the future of education optimistically, with the hope that every child will get to enjoy the experience of learning, as they will be able to succeed in their own way and learn at their own pace. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that the new advances in adaptive and personalized learning reach the most marginalized children around the globe to address the learning crisis.
Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, explore their passions and overcome personal learning barriers. The time is now to utilize and embrace the power of personalized learning journeys and, together, continue to transform education for the better.
Article written by Emma Dryer, who is a keynote speaker and an Oxford Rhodes Scholar with a double Master's in Public Policy and Child Development. She is a Qualified Occupational Therapist and is currently employed as an Education Outcomes Fund Program Analyst for UNICEF.