3(+1) Challenges We’ve Seen (and Solutions!) In Personalized Learning

Learning Lab

A Change in the Teaching Model

Educational pedagogy has seen a sizable shift toward attempting to personalize learning in the last few years. The emergence of libraries worth of online resources, coupled with the trend in “flipping” classrooms, has made it easier than ever for students to learn utilizing “personalized learning plans” (“PLPs” as one local school calls them) that give them more control over the pace and frequency of their learning.

This has given rise to an instructional model that we believe can more effectively balance the sometimes competing needs of progressing through material and developing the student self-confidence that leads to better learning. We’re delighted that instructional technology and its implementation in schools are beginning to reach a point where the aforementioned is a reasonably achievable reality.

We’ve long been advocates of personalized learning. When a family calls to inquire about our services, a common question that is asked is “What program(s) do you use?” Our consistent answer is that we do not subscribe to any single program or pedagogical stance. We draw from a multitude of techniques, recognizing that what works well for one student, may not be the best solution for another, or even what might have worked well “last time” may not be right “this time.”

Our tutoring model has always been leveraged on the idea that (student) understanding leads to (student self-) confidence and that this leads to (student) progress. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that the aforementioned change has us responding with a sincere, “Welcome to the party!”


Challenges in Personalized Learning

While we think that the shift in classrooms and schools has the potential to vastly improve a student’s learning experience, it comes with its own set of challenges.

  • First, put simply, giving students greater ownership of their learning also opens them up to more easily getting off schedule and falling behind.
  • Second, as students are given the responsibility of using online resources as a significant, and sometimes primary, source of instruction, they also may tend to rush through material either because they may have fallen behind (as just mentioned), or because students’ negative dispositions toward a given subject may cause them to adopt a “I just need to get through this” approach.
  • Third, as instructors shift their roles from lecturers to in-class assistants, special attention must be paid by the instructors to consciously and carefully balance a student’s desire to “get the answer” and finish quickly with allowing the student to work and struggle (in the right measure) to lead themselves to learning.
  • Finally, and not every school is doing this, the push toward personalization also includes automated assessments that do not sufficiently challenge the student to master the intricacies of material.

Meeting the Challenges

To ensure that the stumbling blocks mentioned above don’t arise for students, we think that the following are prudent:

  • Students should be formally taught simple project management skills like using a planner and should be encouraged to continually estimate (and verify) how long they think tasks will take them.
  • Easily accessible external reminders of “where a student should be” in the course material should be built into the program and progress check measures that effectively test the difference between shallow familiarity and true mastery of a topic are essential.
  • Instructors must be intimately familiar with the material that they are teaching so that when a student encounters a roadblock and asks for help, the instructor is quickly able to socratically lead the student through a series of checks that facilitate learning and confidence instead of just “giving the answer away.”
  • Finally, it is critical that the assessment tools (and the lessons that students use) be of sufficient depth and rigor to ensure that students that want to master material have the options to explore it at a level which is at least comparable to their more traditionally schooled peers, i.e. the materials need to have options that allow the most motivated students to learn deeply and be acknowledged for their efforts.

We firmly believe that the real power of one-on-one tutoring lies in its ability to continually evaluate a student’s progress and understanding so that as educators, we can adjust and personalize. We adjust in light of a student’s progress, recognizing that progress has many contributing factors. That adjustment takes place in time frames ranging from a few months at a time, all the way down to changing course during a one-hour session. We have found that this approach provides the best combination of student mastery and confidence and it leads to progress. To be truly successful, personalized learning programs in schools should seek to do the same.

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