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Lying about Personalized Learning

Champions of personalized instruction tend to fall back on the assumption that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective instructional approach but is not scalable (implicit in Bloom’s two sigma problem), and since “we all know” that group instruction is poor, we’ve no choice but to personalize using an automated computer system as our best and most effective path forward.

Now, if you’ve ever taught, you know that many students love to talk. It seems that they live to ask questions, argue, and endlessly discuss. Now, I ask you: How can removing all possibility of engaging in their favorite approach to learning (by making the computer the only entity with whom they can interact) be said to be personalization for them?

(And let’s not forget my pet hypothesis regarding the increasing importance of social interaction as one moves further up Bloom’s taxonomy. When students are working near the top of the taxonomy, the absence of social interaction will greatly decrease the efficiency of all learners.)

Systems that want to make claims to “personalize” must include multiple options for students who prefer interacting with other humans. A “full palette” of personalization options that involve variations of interactions with a single entity (the computer) is basically a monochrome palette. “Personalize your new car with any color you want! You can get it in blue, light blue, midnight blue, sky blue, Carolina blue, azurite, ultramarine, cerulean blue, cobalt blue, even Prussian blue!” (Reminiscent of the great SNL skit, “He could be green, or lime green, or mint green…”)

If we’re going to talk about “personalization,” options rich with human interaction must be part of the palette. Otherwise, we should call it what it is – a power grab by administrators forcing learners into a learning environment they do not prefer for the sake of increased efficiency.