And yet very few companies seem to get it. As someone who works in schools and fields countless emails inviting me to “connect” with yet another product, I find it disappointing how, so often, the products miss the mark. In the need to say, “Personalized learning?… yep, our app does that.”, most edTech startups don’t demonstrate that they have indeed wrestled with gaining a fundamental grasp of what that term means. It is not plopping kids down in front of a laptop for a digital version of poor traditional instruction (but now with animations and sounds). It is an abstract concept with many more variables (which change wildly on a per school basis) than they seem to grasp. It is something which should be based on sound research and a deep understanding of curriculum theory rather than “One of our co-founders used to teach middle school math for a couple of years.”
As I watch some of these products being introduced into classrooms, I don’t see them providing a fundamental shift towards collaborative, inter-connected, inquiry-based learning that fosters the kind of social learning that happens in adulthood and is shown in the research. Rather, I see a patchwork of isolated, disconnected smatterings of reading or math or science where everything is compartmentalized, including the students. To reference Alfie Kohn, it is an environment where ‘Personalized Learning’ is something that is done to kids rather than empowering the student and granting them agency as the term implies. How does this change anything?
Truly revolutionary tools are much more likely to be those that fill in or automate gaps, create and sustain connections, and translate the abstraction of personal learning into understandable and conveyable competency data. Unfortunately, these kinds of tools are also unlikely to “scale” being that they don’t readily meld with the traditional classroom approach which has not changed markedly since Horace Mann which only provides a reliable market for these specious edTech products we’re currently seeing.