Personalized Learning and the Technology Debate

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Personalized learning is the single most significant concept in education as we strive to meet the needs of all students and prepare them for the challenges in the 21st century.

It means that we honor every student's unique talents, support their learning modalities and styles and allow them to have a stronger voice in their own learning.

As opposed to one set of objectives for all learners, personalized learning permits the learner to create and engage in their own learning objectives and curriculum, and most often, they are able to accomplish this due to technology that makes information instantaneously available to them.

Frankly, since the concept of personalized learning is fairly new in the school systems, there is much debate over how to implement it, whether it can successfully replace "traditional" education, whether technology plays too big a role, and the list goes on.

Yet, there is one group of students who, as we look to implementing and enhancing personalized learning, might be considered the best possible role models.

These students consistently achieve higher than average SAT and ACT scores, are considered to be the the happiest, and most highly motivated learners according to nearly every college in the nation. These students epitomize personalized learning and they are homeschooled.

Homeschoolers choose their own learning, keep learning dynamic and maintain authentic real world connections to their learning. They use the latest technology and they are, again, the epitome of life-long learners who feed their own learning interests and engage in them at a level to be revered by the rest of us.

Were we to ask this ever-growing group how to incorporate personalized learning in the public school system in a way that ensures success, I believe we would find many of the high quality answers we seek.

The discussion and ongoing debate about personalized learning in the established school system often centers around whether the use of technology will enhance or detract from the curriculum and if in fact, the stepped up use of technology will truly prepare students for they type of work and community involvement that must take place without the use of technology.

A few of the questions being asked about personalized learning are these: Are students becoming more isolated due to the exponential use of technology? As they use more technology to direct their own learning are they able to connect and communicate with their peers, parents and the community at large?

How much technology is too much? When we see two year old children easily able to use smart phones and tablets for hours on end to play games and "learn" at the same time, will their social skills diminish as a result? Will technology enhance authentic learning and make it more personal to the learner? Will technology make a learner more successful overall?

Does technology keep the learner involved and engaged, able to self-evaluate, and prioritize?

These questions and many more are at the heart of personalized learning.

As a community we need to explore and answer all of them. Looking to the homeschool community for some significant answers may significantly add to personalized learning as these systems become more commonplace in our classrooms.

Currently, it is a well-known and accepted fact that most of our schools are cookie-cutter with a virtual, one-size fits all curriculum, and we certainly could do a better job helping students become self-sustaining life-long learners.

The school curriculum is not, at the moment, personalized to every child and it literally caters to one single type of student who learns in one specific style. The child who flourishes in the present school environment is known as a highly visual learner, one who thinks in pictures and recalls information quickly in the same way.

The visual learner's every attribute matches school's every requirement. Visual learners are neat, organized, able to be remain quietly in their seats for hours, and when it comes to studying for tests have natural abilities to think and recall in images, which brain research supports is the speediest and most efficient memory method during written tests.

If a student is not a high visual learner, and perhaps learns better by listening or actually "doing", feeling or interacting with the material, he or she may stumble through school year after year believing they are not smart, and often loses all confidence in their ability to learn. Their learning is not at all personalized.

Abysmal dropout rates and a student population where nearly 70% do not read at grade level, are fairly good indicators that the one size fits all curriculum approach is not working.

So, I have to ask - is there a middle ground in personalized learning? How do we allow students to learn at their own pace, select their learning, communicate and exchange ideas in groups, keep progress logs and in fact rejoice in their learning? How do we incorporate personal learning preferences and learning styles in the process?

How can technology assist in the highest and best form of personalized learning? And finally, how soon can we begin to dismantle what many consider an antiquated educational system in favor of one where personalized learning prevails?

I am forever inspired by Horace Mann who said, "Be ashamed to die before you have won some victory for humanity." Personalized learning via technology has the potential to be this victory.

Pat Wyman College Professor, Founder and CEO, HowToLearn.com

Best selling author, Amazing Grades: 101 Best Ways To Improve Your Grades Faster

Spelling Made Easy: Learn Your Words in Half the Time

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