One is the loneliest number that you will ever do….
~Three Dog Night
Personalized learning must not be mistaken for inclusion. The reality is that it’s student isolation!
Inclusion is generally defined as the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Doing schoolwork on a digital device by yourself is not inclusion. It’s ability grouping for one!
In special education, inclusion is often described as students working alongside their peers. Alongside? Please tell me that doesn’t mean sitting next to another student on the computer!
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) praises personalized learning as a customized learning experience in their latest report. There are some good things about this report, but the NCLD should be careful promoting personalized learning.
For years they have led the charge for inclusion—even insisting students with disabilities take the same tests that students without disabilities take.
This, of course, has not been without controversy. Many question whether it’s pushing students into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
Also, stigmatizing students could be worse if they have difficulty mastering the same standards. We can easily argue that all children present variations in the way they learn. All children would benefit from an IEP.
But students on digital devices won’t solve the problem of peer acceptance and bringing students together.
There might be other problems too. Children might compare the skills they’re working on with classmates. Just because students sit next to each other, doesn’t mean they will become friends, or that they will work better.
The tech enthusiasts mix up the conversation to confuse differentiation and personalization.
Differentiation refers to Carol Ann Tomlinson’s push to get children in inclusion classrooms doing academic activities in ways that are common but uniquely different. This takes much thoughtful planning on the part of well-qualified teachers.
For example, students might read about a topic with everyone placed at their individual reading levels. Next, they could come together as a class to discuss the topic.
Jennifer Carolan, co-founding partner of Reach Capital, a $53 million venture fund that backs education technology startups, writes in Education Week about such differentiation, trying to liken it to personalized learning. The article is called “Personalized Learning Isn’t About Isolation.” Previously, Carolan was the managing director and co-founder of the Seed Fund at the NewSchools Venture Fund.
But she’s wrong. Personalized learning is about working alone.
The reality is, and many of us understand, that tech enthusiasts are pushing teachers out of the profession and creating facilitators who merely monitor students as they work alone.
Eventually, if they continue on this course, students will completely work alone. We already hear of students who enter their class at school only to find there is no teacher, just computers. Like the high school student in Tennessee assigned to a credit recovery course on a computer. See: “Are Computers Teachers? Tennessee Court Might Weigh In.”
In addition, self-regulation, getting students to behave well enough to work independently, is the name of the game in schools today. We see effort to get even the youngest learners to manage their own learning and behavior. Many fear this is about a future where there are no more real teachers.
How will this work with students who have disabilities—who experience short attention spans? What happens when a student becomes frustrated?
It takes experienced teachers in both general and special education, and decent class sizes, to help address the challenges facing students with disabilities. Computers don’t do that. They merely present skills and review (ongoing assessment).
Diane Ravitch calls it “depersonalized learning.”
The human element, the most important part of inclusion for children, involves bringing students together—both academically and socially!
Children with disabilities need skills, of course. But they also need peer acceptance. They will not get that from a machine. Such acceptance also leads to a greater societal good.
Special education activists have worked long and hard for inclusion to become a reality. The re-authorizations of Public Law 94-142 into IDEA were put in place to make the least restrictive classroom environment law.
While the IEP and examining a student’s individual needs is still sacrosanct, it is how those goals connect to the class as a whole that’s most important.
Personalized learning is not a step forward with IEP goals. It’s skill acquisition pure and simple. It does nothing to address real inclusion—which should still be the ultimate goal for all children.
If one could foresee the future with personalized learning, it will be children and teens, working on their own, alone. Students with disabilities will be excluded. That’s not inclusion no matter how you spin it.
Carolan, Jennifer. 2016. “Personalized Learning Isn’t About Isolation.” Education Week. 35(220): 25,27.