Making Personalized Learning a Reality in the Classroom

Young female student delighted by learning | Making Personalized Learning a Reality in the Classroom
Contributed By

Neeru Khosla

Founder and Executive Director, CK-12 Foundation

Making Personalized Learning a Reality in the Classroom

Posted in Evolving Ed | July 20, 2017

Personalized learning is an educational strategy designed to improve learning by tailoring instruction to students needs and allowing students a certain level of choice in how they learn. It’s the newest high-tech wonder in education.

But people are either excited about it or are having a hard time buying into the concept. Why this dichotomy?

Personalized Learning: The Holy Grail

People who believe, believe that it is the holy grail of learning because it could actually help make learning efficient and manageable. It works if you can gather enough information about what the student knows followed by immediate feedback. Knowing what the student is missing is critical. In addition, the student also needs to know where to go next and should have some choice in how they’re learning.

Personalized Learning: Not My Cup of Tea!

Some other people believe that this is dangerous, as you will be collecting data on young students. The idea of collecting data scares both the educators and the parents because of past misuse. Data collection can also be scary because of the potential emotional impact on students.

These are, of course, fair concerns, but modern education technology companies, such as CK-12, utilize the best technologies available to protect student data and follow strict guidelines regarding how this data can be used. In that light, to not do something that could potentially be very beneficial for learning due to fear is very backward for progress.

You may argue that personalized learning is already being done in the classroom—where a teacher knows what each student knows and creates a learning program for that student—without technology. There are two big problems with that approach.

Firstly, the teacher must take into account a large amount of data that include what the student did that day but also ways to connect various concepts and their relationships to one another. The complex relationships that build the basic blocks of knowing are key to this complexity.

Second, it’s not humanly possible to deal with the amount of data we need to compute for such a complex process. The best tools for crunching large amounts of data today are computers.

When strengthened with Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence (ML/AI)—that can accurately identify patterns and predict outcomes from huge, complex data sets—the solutions then become more immediate and robust. We do not have to wait for the teacher for days or weeks to come up with a solution. It’s a win-win for both teachers and students.

Learning is Complex and Additive

To really quantify what a student knows, we cannot only measure what they have learned after reading about a topic or watching a video. The best learning happens when we allow the students to experience content through many different modalities. The importance of exposure to connected concepts with reading, video, interactive elements, simulations, and adaptive practice—all situated in real world applications—is key to creating a richer and more meaningful environment for learning.

A Personalized System is Your System!

Personalizing learning in the classroom requires active participation of the learner (and the teacher) with the system. Without understanding what the student knows, we cannot help them to learn. As in the classroom, where a good teacher tries to determine learning through various methods such as tests, writing, portfolios, labs, creations, and projects, imagine the value of other new modalities that can pinpoint what the student knows or does not know.

Based on the last five years of data, CK-12’s ML/AI-based systems have had time to evolve and improve as tools to understand what students know. The maturity of these systems is dependent on learning from each data point.

To this end, we’ve has established fundamental learning dependencies. Large data sets and close connection of the content and feedback to learning have helped improve learning and keep students going at their most appropriate pace.

Now the most obvious question to ask here is, “How would you do that?”

What It Takes to Do Personalization Right

  1. Content must provide a variety of paths and learning modes. CK-12, for example, has created 5,000+ concepts that are deeply connected across Math and Science with multiple modalities (e.g., text, video, simulations, interactives, adaptive practice, etc.) and associated difficulty levels.
  2. Teachers need to be able to identify where the student is, based on what they are doing, usage patterns, questions answered, and many other metrics.
  3. Personalized learning paths must be assembled based on the data. ML/AI algorithms, data science, and the ability to aggregate tons of data points can help.
  4. Learning must be based on sound educational criteria, such as memory decay, interleaving of concepts, and varying difficulty of questions to help students learn deeply.
  5. Teachers and technologies need the abilities to recognize early warning signs and intervene with recommended content based on personalized pathways.
  6. Personalization works best when an adaptive practice system is involved in ways that helps keep the students in their Zone of Proximal Development.
  7. Finally, the most important thing needed to personalize learning right is making the abstract constructs that students struggle with relevant. At CK-12, for example, we link every concept in science and math with Real World Applications (RWAs) so that students can image the abstraction.

Personalized learning is the first step towards helping students be educated in a more meaningful way with relevance and real feedback to keep moving forward. With the right approach and the right tools, we can make this dream a reality for every student.

CK-12 Foundation is a Schoology NEXT sponsor. Join CK-12’s Founder Neeru Khosla for her NEXT keynote presentation “How Content Supports Personalized Learning,” their Head of Outreach Carl Haley for his session “Amazing Content and Personalized Learning Using CK-12 and Schoology,” or a CK-12 representative at their sponsor booth.  


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