A teachers job is, to put it mildly, difficult. In any given classroom across North America, a lone educator is responsible for effectively imparting knowledgeupon a disparate group of children with different strengths, weaknesses, intelligence levels and learning acumen. The result of such an awesome task is that public school curriculums aimthe middle of the road, not challenging the advanced students but also not addressing the problems of their struggling peers.
The history of personalized learning
Many pedagogical researchers believe the solution to watered-down, one-size-fits-all curriculums is a concept known as personalized learning. The fundamental basis for the school of thought stretches back nearly a century, when in 1919, University of Chicago researchers conducted an experiment on the learning habits of Winnetka, Illinois schoolchildren and found that students excelled when their curriculum was altered to fit their individual needs and progress levels.
That basic idea was further cemented over sixty years later, when another University of Chicago researcher, Benjamin Bloom found that students who were aided by tutors performed better than those who were taught in a uniform classroom environment. Ideally, every student in the United States and Canada would have their own dedicated tutor, but the cost of such a measure would be ludicrous. Now, however, educational researchers are turning towardtechnology to make personalized learning a reality.
The potential of digital education
Major education companies are racing to develop and release teaching software that adapts to a student’s individualneeds. A program could continually alter a lesson plan, reinforcing subjects that the student has struggled with while moving past material he or she has quickly grasped.
Full-scale implementation of adaptive teaching software could change the face of education in North America. Instead of a teacher standing in front of a class, routinely going over district-approved material, he or she could monitor the students’ digital lessons being conducted on classroom computers, stopping to assist those that need help while those who excel are left to their own progression.
Testing personalized learning
Both education researchers and resource providers are excited about personalized learning’s potential. Scott Olster, editor for CNN”s Fortune Tech department, recently examined the burgeoning trend and found that the Bill & MelindaGates Foundation had spent nearly $9 million on a program to implement personalized learning principles into the curriculums of 20 schools. If the experiment is successful, the next step could be expanding the program on a larger scale.
Scott Benson, a program officer for the foundation recently wrote on Impatient Optimists, “everyone involved in these efforts has much to learn, but we are cautiously optimistic about the power of these models to accelerate results for students and prepare them for more ownership of their learning now and in the future.”
Personalized learning appears to be the driving force for education reform and innovation for the foreseeable future. Asdevelopers create software that can be cheaply and effectively integrated into current lesson plans, the academic landscape could see some drastic changes. The days of a teacher being single handedly responsible for the education of a classroom full of children may be numbered. The time may come when technology allows students to be the agents of their own educational progress.
Are the tenets of personalized learning a better alternative to current teaching methods? Would personalized educational software be more effective than a flesh and blood teacher? Tell us what you think in the comment section below!