Personalized Learning: Whose School Is It Anyway?
Mike Crowley

There is no question that student voice, choice, planning, reflection, and action are the keys to authentic, intrinsically motivated learning. However, the increased focus on technology is now making the term “personalized learning” a target for those who fear that it will be a modern-day version of “programmed learning,” where adults still decide what every learner should know and be able to do.

It’s imperative that we fight the tendency to believe that technology can take over the role of humans who value and respect the unique potential of each student. The traditional role of “teacher as teller” must be replaced by adults who act as mentors, facilitators, guides, and curators of enriched environments…adults who encourage, nurture, and truly care about each learner.

Technology must remain a tool rather than an “answer” to personalized learning. If it is used by students to share, reflect on, and communicate their learning, great! But if it is used by adults to set up a “personalized” schedule of externally defined tasks, then nothing has changed except that “teacher as teller” is replaced by “technology as teller.”

Even the word “personalized” has potential limitations. You can personalize clothing or towels or glassware by imprinting initials on them…but that does not change the nature of the object. In education, a much more meaningful term might be self-directed learning. That doesn’t mean that the learner must have infinite choice, although there are some schools, such as Sudbury, that provide that option. Your idea of setting up a menu of modular learning opportunities around creativity, design, wellness, expression, innovation, and digital publishing is great as long as it acts as a starting point…a set of tools that students can use to build their own learning. But we have seen in the past how people have taken ideas built on one set of beliefs (learner-centered education) and twisted them to fit their own beliefs (top-down one size fits all education). I would simply suggest that we need to be guard against that happening as much as humanly possible.

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