Making Education More Personalised?

The question mark is a reflection of the fact that the book I am currently reading and summarising, Is Technology Good for Education? by Neil Selwyn, questions the prevalent beliefs that digital technology has radically altered (‘disrupted’) modern education for the better. I’ve blogged about Chapter 1 here and about Chapter 2 here.

Chapter 3 begins by reminding us how technology is often pitched to us as something that we can personalise for our own needs. It’s ours – we own it, not just financially, but in how we adapt and customise it. iPhone woolly cover, anyone?

Personalisation is a key feature of the consumption as well as sellling of goods and services.

From this has developed the idea that we can personalise education -an idea strengthened by the popularity in recent decades of the  ‘learner-centred’ approach. (Indeed in my old school, we were told not to talk about ‘Teaching and Learning’ but instead to talk  about ‘Learning and Teaching’. A subtle but important difference.)

One example is the widespread use of digital /e-portfolios (such as Mahara), allowing students to build up their own showcases of work for assessment or employment use. Another is the learning path approach where students can choose online from subjects that interest them and take repeated formative tests -online quizzes. However, this learning is still class-based in the traditional way, whether it is in a blended or completely online situation.

We have TED talks and MOOCs (although, as we saw in the previous chapter, the people accessing them are not necessarily different from those accessing traditional education previously) However, regarding the ‘personalised’ element, the content is still the same for everyone, as with traditional courses and textbooks, even though the way, the time and the place you access it might be varied.  Jodie Dean (2104) is quoted as saying:

Personalisation should not be confused with  personal. There is nothing personal here.

We also have the new, ‘informal’ type of learning connected with, for example, Twitter, where we talk about our PLN or Personalised Learning networks. I’ve heard many a tech-savvy teacher saying how much more they have learned from their Twitter PLN than from in-house CPD.

Neil Selwyn questions how much of this informal, personalised learning is actually worthwhile? And again, which elements of society  benefit? Current educational thinking is that

 […] learning is a social endeavour that is best supportedby more knowledgeable others. In particular it could be argues that there are many things that individuals are unlikely to discover and explore for themselves -not least because learners ‘can’t know what they don’t know’

In terms of motivating and progression, we sometimes need the support of mediating experts, as he calls teachers and other educators. They can keep us inspired and help direct us into what we need to learn (that we didn’t know!) I can totally relate to this. I have been teaching myself Russian since September. I am motivated, skilled in language learning and very ‘connected. I have been reading books, doing Moodle activities, using apps, watching Youtube videos … all very useful … but my progress jumped signifantly higher as soon as I engaged an individual private tutor. Selwyn states

Despite having fallen out of fashion in most discussions of digital education, formal teacher-led instruction might often be the most appropriate means by which learning takes place.

And in conclusion, we’re drawn back yet again to the democratisation fallacy of Chapter 2. Those who do best in personalised learning with digital technology are those who are already digitally literate (whatever that means!) educated, and with the time and money to succeed.

These are clearly not circumstances that are enjoyed by every individual.

References:

Dean, J. (2014). Big data: accumulation and enclosure. [online] Academia.edu. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/7125387/Big_data_accumulation_and_enclosure 

Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Great Britain: Politybooks.com.

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