Using Student Data to Personalize Distance Learning

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

Using Student Data to Personalize Distance Learning

Posted in Evolving Ed | May 20, 2020

Student data is essential for personalizing distance learning.  

Personalized instruction has proven to be effective in many classrooms across the country. According to the 2019-2020 State of Digital Learning, nearly 40% of schools and districts use this instructional approach. When distance learning comes into play, personalized instruction takes on another layer of importance. What better opportunity to dive into students’ personal interests and learning styles when we’re not in the classroom with 20–30 other students—all vying for the teacher’s limited attention—at the same time?  

In a personalized learning environment, students and teachers co-design their objectives based on individual learning goals—which means each student drives and owns their unique learning path. Instructors are then able to be more resourceful and strategic when working with students 1-on-1 via video conferencing, email, or discussion boards on the learning management system (LMS). 

Of course, we’re unable to create objectives or determine a student’s needs without data. We use data to inform decision making, which helps us create more targeted lessons that not only take into account students’ learning styles, needs, and interests, but also incites a culture shift for many schools and districts who now focus on how to best gather and use data to personalize learning and inform instruction in general. Involving students in the study of their own data gives them the opportunity to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, which is a powerful tool for learning.  

Where does distance learning data come from? 

  • Leverage technology tools. Your LMS is the perfect platform for collecting all types of student data. Have your students post discussion board responses to specific questions you’ve posed, upload videos to demonstrate mastery of a skill or concept, or engage in a 1-on-1 conference with you. Consider using video conferencing tools for small group instruction and discussions—a great way to conduct formative assessments—on a weekly basis.  
  • Utilize summative and formative assessment. Whether your school or district is using traditional grades or not, it’s still imperative to accurately assess students while they’re learning from home. Now, that doesn’t mean we need to obsessively assess everything. Let’s keep the mental and emotional wellbeing of students—and their parents—in mind.  

    Instead, we need to make strategic decisions about those things that students need to know vs. those that are nice to know. In reality, with distance learning, it will take significantly longer to move through the curriculum, so paring it down to the essentials first, assessing those skills and concepts properly, and using the rest of the curriculum content to extend learning, is ideal.  

  • Collaborate with other teachers and parents virtually. During times like these, teacher collaboration is critical, especially amongst teachers who share students. While your PLCs may not be able to meet in person each week anymore, you can (and absolutely should) gather virtually on the same cadence. And don’t forget about parents. They are the new teachers after all. Discuss progress and data with parents/guardians, always prioritizing the privacy of their students, so that they’re able to support them at home. Parents can also provide student learning data, so you’re all working together towards a common goal.  

Student data is the key component to personalizing distance learning.  

I can’t speak for all of the parents out there who are experiencing distance learning with their children for the first time, but for my family, the more autonomous our students can be, the more smoothly things go around here. Personalizing distance learning is an opportunity for students to really dive into what matters to them, what they’re interested in, and what they want to know more about.  

Pair that with teaching students to track progress and understand their own data. When students know their data, it moves conversations about progress from abstract, generic goals—like, study more or try harder—to student-created, targeted goals—like, increase my reading level by 1.5 years or master 90 percent or more of my individual learning targets—and also provides them with skills to track those goals. The mastery-based approach keeps students, teachers, and parents on the same page and tailors pathways to success, losing the “one-size-fits-all” element that’s often present in the classroom. 

Finally, let’s not forget about feedback. Students deserve feedback on everything they complete. And I don’t mean, “Good job, Anthony. You got an A,” or “You got a C, Beth. You’ll have to retest.” Real feedback needs to be timely, specific, and constructive—but not necessarily positive. Feedback needs to be actionable and delivered in a well-formatted manner that’s intended to help students understand their strengths and weaknesses, not embarrass them or call them out. In the long run, genuine feedback will help students grow both academically and personally, whether they’re learning from home or back in the classroom.  

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