The Future of Learning: Meeting the Needs of All Learners
In the past, most teachers would teach at a level appropriate for a student who was slightly below average. When stated this plainly, that practice can sound like a depressing state of affairs. After all, it means teaching in a way that would bore the majority of students. Additionally, students who were well below average would have a hard time keeping up.
In recent years, an emphasis has been placed on differentiated instruction. The idea is that teachers would not attempt to teach the same material in the same way to every student in the class. Rather, teachers would differentiate the curriculum so that students would have multiple options for their instruction and assessment.
Another similar trend is that of personalized instruction. As the term suggests, the idea is that teachers would teach directly to the needs of each student. It probably would not have been possible to personalize learning a generation ago, but the new generation of tech tools makes it a possibility.
Of course, it requires a radically different frame of mind on the part of the teacher. Virtually every aspect of the classroom—from procedures to structures to materials to assessment—looks different in a personalized classroom.
While every classroom will look different, a personalized classroom will usually have the following features:
First, learning is guided by the interests of the student. Teachers will guide students to select materials, projects, and products that reflect student interests.
Second, students have more choice in virtually every aspect of the process, including where, when, and how they learn the material.
Third, teachers take on the role of coaches instead of the role of information purveyors.
Fourth, the pace is determined by the learning process of the student.
Fifth, edtech tools are used to manage the multiplicity of learning experiences. Each student might create a personalized portfolio in Google Slides to show their work, or they might get their daily “playlist” of assignments through a Google Doc. They might take charge of their learning by using the Internet to research topics that interest them.
Of course, it is a challenge for the teacher to manage this kind of learning environment in a way that ensures that all students are making appropriate progress. And the abundance of digital learning materials is both a blessing and a curse: there is a blessing of abundance, but there is also often the curse of a lack of vetting of materials. Fortunately, websites that aggregate digital learning materials can help teachers manage the process.
Initial data on personalized learning looks promising. Now, it’s up to teachers and students to see how far this novel model of learning can take them.