The Case Against Personalized Learning

I’m taking a page out of current political discourse in this country and naming this post the exact opposite of what it actually is.

It would be much, much more accurate to say that the “case against personalized learning” is actually “the case against algorithms making learning decisions for students” but that’s not very catchy, is it?  

Here’s the article that has me a bit riled up: The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.

High Point #1: 

There seems to be the assumption that “personalized” must mean an adaptive software program. Along with that assumption is the idea that it is the tech industry trying to make a profit. Now, I think y’all know me well enough to know that I’m always going to “follow the money” when talking about choices schools make for curriculum. In that sense, I agree whole-heartedly with the secondary premise of tech industries trying to make a profit. However, it’s the first premise – that personalized means software – that I find so discouraging.

So my first wondering is this: How do ed tech instructional coaches reclaim “personalized learning”? Or at least make it clear that algorithms aren’t what we are talking about when we talk about personalizing learning?

High Point #2: 

A quote from the article: “On a deeper level, Kohn and some other progressive educators believe that real learning happens when students are driven by their intrinsic curiosity to pursue answers to their own questions about the world. (Italics mine) By contrast, Kohn said, much of what’s marketed as ‘personalized learning’ amounts to little more than breaking knowledge and ideas down into ‘itty-bitty parts.’ ”

Next, learning the “itty-bitty parts” are coupled with extrinsic rewards to “march kids through a series of decontextualized skills they had no meaningful role in choosing.”  

The Big Question

My second wondering is this: How can we help others see that students driven by their intrinsic curiosity IS “personalized learning?” Is this fight against a machine too big to fight? Is there a better way to describe what we strive to create in classrooms?

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