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.
Personalized learning is inhumane.
Nancy Bailey says
Jo, that sounds strange when you think about what personalized learning was originally about. Thanks.
Roger Titcombe says
Nancy is right. This debate is going on right now in the UK. See this article and comments.
Nancy Bailey says
Fascinating, Roger! Thanks for sharing my post. I’m always amazed by the similarities.
Sheila Resseger says
My background as a teacher of the deaf who spent my career in a state school for the deaf informs my take on “inclusion.” The point of the IEP is to provide each unique student with the program and supports needed to develop their potential. For some students mainstreaming with supports is in their best interest. For others, like the deaf and hard of hearing students at the school for the deaf, it is in their best interest to have a professional staff who have gone through an education/training process that supports them to understand the students’ challenges when it comes to English language/literacy learning. It is also vitally important for them to have peers who can communicate with them. The typical class size is FIVE! Teachers had (while I was there, but I retired in 2011) the autonomy to design their own curricula with regard to the particular students in their classes. This was manageable, but still no easy feat. What teachers have been subjected to under NCLB, RttT, and CC$$ is impossible–to differentiate for each student in a class of 25-30 on an endless proliferation of standardized skills. No human being can accomplish this. What’s the answer? Computerized instruction, of course! Differentiation according to splinter skills is a breeze for computer algorithms. But is it in the best interest of children? I say NO.
Here are some comments by Robert D. Shepherd, curriculum and literacy expert, to a Diane Ravitch blog post in March, 2014:
“It’s extremely important that people understand WHY the Common [sic] Core [sic] was created.
“It was created because a few people have a particular vision for the future of education: we are to experience a computer-based learning revolution. There is to be a single bullet list of tags to correlate all learning to.
“That’s why Bill Gates and Pearson paid to have these standards created.
“Few have understood this.
“Here’s the problem: These people talk all the time about “personalized learning” and “individual learning paths.” But what they are talking about is plopping kids down into a predetermined maze. The learning is individualized to the extent that the program tells you where to put the kid in the predetermined matrix. This rat has already learned to turn left at the first T, so we can put her down in the maze at some point beyond that.
“Why is this happening now?
“Well, Gates has long had this vision for education. It’s one he articulated many years ago in his autobiographical The Road Ahead.
“Pearson and the other big ed book publishers see that Open Source online texts have the potential of completely undermining their business model. Pixels are cheap. There are now hundreds of excellent FREE online textbooks in hundreds of subjects. The BIG DATA model provides the “value-add” that distinguishes will distinguish their products from others and so will keep them alive. They don’t want to go the way of typewriters and telephone booths.
“The whole notion of creating a single national database of student responses and test scores was to ensure a single, controllable gateway for this computer-adaptive curricula, again in response to the challenge presented by Open Source to the publishing monopolists’ business model. …
“I say all this as one who believes that programmed, adaptive learning can be extremely powerful and useful.
“Ed tech could mean a quantum leap in availability of resources, including alternate tracks for kids to pursue, building upon their unique propensities and interests.
“Or it could mean an Orwellian nightmare of top-down, centralized command and control, regimentation, and standardization.
“The Ed Deformers are well on their way toward producing the second sort of future. Why do I think that? Well, consider the way in which they have operated so far, completely outside any democratic process, with no public discourse about ed tech and and big data how these are to be used. The Common [sic] Core [sic] was meant to be a fait accompli. YOU WERE NOT MEANT TO HAVE ANY INPUT regarding the vision for how ed tech is to be used. Consider how you keep being told that “teachers developed these standards” and that “the states freely adopted them.” Yeah. Sure. And North Korea just had free elections.
“The Ed Tech revolution is going to happen. It can be liberatory. It can provide unprecedented opportunities for access and collaboration and demonstration and uniqueness of learning paths and progressions. Or it can an instrument of an unprecedented tyranny.
“You decide. Or the decisions will all be made for you.”
Someone who understands that LRE (least restrictive environment) does not necessarily mean the mainstream classroom! The LRE depends on the needs of the student not the facility. I have had many students who benefited from a self contained classroom whose disabilities were less obvious although not necessarily less disabling than those who have physical impairments. The push for inclusion has gone overboard, in my opinion, although is almost always a goal to strive for. Differentiation is great, but hardly substitutes for an IEP that may require services beyond those typically provided in the mainstream classroom even with some iteration of a co-teaching model.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree! My point with this post was to discuss personalized learning and inclusion, but I believe in a continuum of services for students. I also think many parents want that as well.
I used to teach a resource class, but I’ve known of some excellent self-contained classes. Those who want to destroy special education, so they don’t have to pay for it, have painted those classes with one negative broad stroke, It has done a disservice to the children who benefited from those classes. Thank you!
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent read, Sheila! Thank you!
ciedie aech says
LOVE this quote from Thomas Ultican: ” ”Personalized learning’ is the Orwellian name given to computer delivered education. It is isolating and devoid of human interaction. There is nothing personal about it. It truthfully should be labeled de-personalized learning.”
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Ciedie. So did Thomas come up with “depersonalized learning,” or Diane? Well, either way it’s a good name for it!
Laura H. Chapman says
I am an old-timer, I was around when the first generation of programmed instruction was being promoted early 1960s. Teachers were implicated in defining behavioral objectives and steps required to meet them. These exercises were based on a version of the infamous PERT system for building military equipment like submarines. Versions of the Program Evaluation and Review (PERT) system are known to and used by today’s instructional designers who learn how to “backmap” from one competency ( a node) to a bunch of pre-requisites, and alternative paths to that “node.” A big difference is that today’s computers feed on massive amounts of data and use that information to chart the most efficient paths to mastery and also map the most common errors, each of these associated with scaffolding to support eventual mastery. Computer-based content is framed as mastery-based, and for skills, that means maximum speed in getting the right answer by the most efficient path. As a worker in arts education I am eager to get people to understand that computer-based anything is mostly about getting right answers to question/problems posed by others with well-worn paths to getting the right answer. Old wine in new bottles, in some cases nothing more than workbooks on a tablet.
I agree, personalized learning with computer delivered education is actually depersonalized learning. It is undeniable and sad to see how the role of teachers is changing in our computer-driven world and how we are slowly becoming second-hand facilitators. The goal of personalized learning should be to tailor learning around students’ needs. However, we have to consider carefully how much role and importance technology is be given to in order to adjust our instruction that is differentiated and personalized. Effective teaching provided by a trained, skillful, professional human being, i.e., the teacher, should be given high priority, and technology should come after that., as a facilitator that assists teachers to provide targeted assistance for their students in need. As the name “assistive technology” suggests, working and learning in computer assisted learning should not mean isolation without peer interaction and acceptance.
I am a teacher and I must say that it is impossible to have IEP for the majority of our students. These days there are so many needy kids who have IEP s and this in classes of 29 kids , in a split grade. I have experienced it this year and on top of this I had 2 autistic kids. If the government want more individualized program then give us less kids. It only makes sense!