The term “personalized learning” has become a bit of a buzzword in North Carolina – a fashionable way to possibly veil an educational reform under the guise of something altruistic.
In its literal and denotative form, “personalized learning” is a rather noble concept. It would allow students to receive tailored-made lessons that match their learning styles, needs, and interests.
It also requires a great amount of time, resources, and PERSONAL attention from instructors.
Time, resources, classroom space, and opportunities to give each student personalized instruction are not items being afforded to North Carolina’s public school teachers. In fact, people in power in this state allowed for the class size mandate to proceed without a fight, never fought against the massive cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, and devoted more time not passing a working budget and ignoring the Lendro Report.
As we start to possibly see a light at the end of the tunnel in this pandemic, there is another rallying term being used: “face-to-face instruction.” In the same sense, it veils with a few words an apparent deficiency in public education that is also veiled by “personalized learning.” That is the lack of people and their faces who can provide instruction and supporting services.
And that lack of actual people means “saving money” to politicians and a dependence on third party software.
In November of 2017, Benjamin Herold of Education Week wrote an investigative article entitled “The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.” It is a straightforward look at how the amorphous term of “personalized learning” has been used to actually advance agendas that really are not good for enhancing instruction. Specifically, he uses three arguments against “personalized learning.” They are:
- “Argument#1: The Hype Outweighs the Research”
- “Argument #2: Personalized Learning is Bad for Teachers and Students”
- “Argument #3: Big Tech + Big Data= Big Problems”
If we as a state really want to actually promote “personalized learning,” then does it not make sense that he would have to counter the arguments laid forth by Herold?
One of the many people whom Herold refers to is Alfie Kohn, a heavy-hitter in the world of educational thought. He quotes Kohn from his book, Schools Beyond Measure.
With a “revamped” website controlled by a software company like SAS that uses secret algorithms to show how well schools are performing on standardized tests which teachers don’t even help to write, NC’s idea of “personalized learning” in a state that still has a very low per-pupil expenditure lacks credibility.
Alfie Kohn’s work as an author and critic is known the world over. In fact, his book The Homework Myth is one of the choice reads for my AP English Language and Composition classes (which ironically argues against the veracity of AP classes in general).
In February of 2015, Kohn wrote an entry in his blog entitled “Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning.’” In it he outlined four warning signs:
1. The tasks have been personalized for kids, not created by them.
2. Education is about the transmission of bits of information, not the construction of meaning.
3. The main objective is just to raise test scores.
4. It’s all about the tech.
I believe Kohn more than I believe our officals. In fact, Kohn actually shows his research if you look at the actual post (http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/personalized/). Footnotes galore and a bibliography at the conclusion.
Until our policy makers are able to communicate clearly, candidly, and convincingly how their vision and/or versions of “face-to-face & personalized instruction” are going to allow teachers to give all students more individualized attention, then what they are selling is nothing more than a scheme to make a profit for someone else.