Personalized Education: A XXI century challenge

teacher personalized education

Personalized education can be the future, as long as we apply critical thinking and learn from past mistakes.

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Standardized education has already started to show cracks and education specialists turned to the next best thing: Personalized education.

In the United States, the government has invested half a billion dollars to help schools pick up the pace as they hop on this new trend. The private sector is putting hundreds of millions to finance research and projects helps develop this educational approach.

As most of the experts on the subject agree, personalized education is still on a development phase. It hasn’t shown any sound evidence to prove that is more effective than standardized education.

Benjamin Herold, an expert in covering education news and staff writer for Edweek talks about a critical point in understanding the problem that is bringing down personalized education. According to Herold, the main issue comes from not having a clear definition and implications when it comes to personalized education.

What is personalized education? Is it an approach? A set of tools and tech? A guide for teaching tactics? In basic terms, we can define personalized education as the teaching practice that puts a specific student's strengths and weaknesses at the center of the learning process.

What causes the problem is our lack of expertise in approaching these new methods, we still don’t exactly what makes them work, or how to apply them efficiently on a collective level. There have been studies with small groups of students taking courses like math or reading, but we don’t have widespread results that can back up personalized education success for the general public.

Paul Emmerich, Edtech specialist, and former teacher in a Silicon Valley educational startup shares a telling experience in his blog that tackles personalized education and its problems. During his tenure with a tech-based personalized education school, he discovered severe weak spots in the teaching-learning process.

The workload was immense and unsustainable, and even when I felt like I was doing what we set out to do–curate educational playlists of cards that were specifically chosen for them–I didn’t feel like it was entirely effective.

For Emmerich, the most fundamental weakness of the trend was the impersonal attribute that comes from an educational practice that relies more on technology than in the human component.

The education process is not just about passing on knowledge. It encompasses communication, socialization, and collaboration. If speaking of the case of Emmerich’s experience, there’s always a computer between the teachers and their students, most of this valuable components in the learning process are going to get lost in translation.

This doesn’t mean that personalized education doesn’t work overall, but it does show that this approach has to be about the people who learn, not the tools that facilitate the learning.

Results and impressions in different cases vary a lot. In New York, a nonprofit group called New Classrooms set up a program to personalize math courses. Students who participated reported a better learning experience from one on one interaction with their teachers.

The explanation for this very different results and feedback traces back all the way to the main problem we stated at the beginning of the article: Personalized education is still on a trial and error phase. The pillars that define how this approach should work are not consolidated yet.

To refine personalized education, we need observation, in-depth study, and research, feedback. Is important that we understand that personalized education is not perfect and that we are still required to create solutions that can help the trend grow into a better path for teaching and learning.

The biggest challenge is to teach each student, taking into consideration their specific strengths and weaknesses without isolating them from their classmates. It’s a delicate and necessary balance to ensure a better execution of personalized education, and improve the teaching-learning process with it.