Meeting the demand to personalize learning for every student

Q&A with Dr. Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer, McGraw Hill

McGraw Hill
Inspired Ideas
Published in
5 min readSep 28, 2022


This interview was originally published in District Administration.

What role can technology play in addressing the teacher burnout we’re seeing across the country?

This should be a top priority for education technology today. Teachers are being asked to do more with less, and the pandemic wore many people out. We’re seeing teacher burnout, teachers leaving the profession, and teacher shortages as a result. At the same time, society is asking teachers to focus more on personalizing learning for individual students because there is more awareness of different ways of learning.

We must find ways to automate some of the low-level administrative tasks that teachers need to do daily. Technology should be able to provide teachers with the right information at the right time for every student. The field of education technology has been a fragmented ecosystem, and teachers have had to go to many different places to access that information. The industry needs to come together with common standards and more interoperability to make the lives of teachers easier.

What challenges do teachers and administrators face when it comes to achievement data?

On the one hand, educators can sometimes feel that they don’t have enough data or the right data on students. But in other cases, they can feel like there is too much data, it’s overwhelming and not useful, or too difficult to access. While we have access to more achievement data than ever, we need to do several things to help teachers be more efficient and effective.

We need to be able to serve up fragmented data in a way that isn’t overwhelming, provide it at the right time, and then recommend exactly what each student may need in terms of instructional content that meets them where they are in their academic journey.

The data needs to flow naturally into teachers’ work. Teachers don’t have time to examine individual sets of data for 25 or 30 different students, especially when the data could be housed in many different platforms and locations. Ultimately teachers know best how their students are doing, but they want data to be able to validate their instincts and guide them.

We also must figure out how to get more granular with student data. Just knowing whether a student is meeting the state standard is not enough, for example. We need to be able to dissect the standards into specific and discrete skills, and then immediately prescribe action steps for teachers to address student needs.

Ultimately, it’s about providing the right data at the right time, and then providing the means to respond in a way that drives efficiency.

How can this also help to personalize learning?

With the help of technology and automating manual tasks, the possibilities for personalizing learning are only limited by our imaginations. For example, we could potentially recommend a specific resource to a student, such as a 15-minute lesson based on a skill deficiency, but the technology could also get a sense of that individual student’s interests based on their user behavior. If it’s sports, music, theater, engineering or something else, that specific lesson or resource could have that theme, which goes a long way toward building motivation and engagement. There are a lot of places we could go with this in the future.

What has prevented personalized learning from being implemented at scale in many schools and districts?

It’s nearly impossible to personalize learning paths for every student manually. Technology is key to doing that. However, a barrier in education technology has been how fragmented and siloed the platforms, devices and products are. When it comes to digital tools, schools are typically using core curriculum resources, as well as supplemental digital resources, plus intervention tools for certain students. Teachers are using multiple products and platforms, and they often don’t integrate with each other. That creates a very fragmented and overly complicated ecosystem. Solving this interoperability problem is critical.

At McGraw Hill, we are one of very few companies with the ability to tackle these challenges, not only because we offer solutions in all three areas — core curriculum, supplemental and intervention — but we now offer a way to access data from all of them in one simple platform: McGraw Hill Plus. That capability is unique, and it can enable more personalized learning to be implemented on a larger scale.

What impact can this have on achievement gaps?

There are two main areas of impact. First, technology can provide the ability to put instructional content into the hands of students that is perfectly in the zone of proximal development for that student. The second area is making the broad value of diversity, equity and inclusion more practical.

Meeting individual student needs through personalized learning is inherently more equitable. In addition, providing instructional content with more diversity so students can see themselves represented, or other groups represented, is also extremely important. These values are top priorities for McGraw Hill, and we believe that technology is a very effective way to promote them.

How can technology help to promote student agency and ownership of their learning?

We envision a future where students have access not only to more personalized learning resources, but also a diversity of types of content — eBooks, video, augmented or virtual reality and more — and are given the agency to explore them on their own. This can lead to more student ownership of learning, and higher levels of engagement.

How can technology help to streamline and automate Response to Intervention and MTSS workflows?

The ability that we have here at McGraw Hill to connect core curriculum, supplemental and intervention resources is essentially an RtI model, connecting Tier I, Tier II and Tier III. Traditionally, RtI requires an understanding of each student’s time on task, as well as their academic performance compared to peers in the classroom and across the district. Done manually, that takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. But technology can automate many of the manual tasks that teachers need to do and provide all that information to intervention specialists, special educators and administrators, so everyone can make more informed decisions.

How is McGraw Hill working to address these challenges to enable more personalized learning?

This fall, we’re excited to be releasing McGraw Hill Plus, a new tool that simplifies educators’ daily workflow by connecting and transforming fragmented data sources from multiple digital solutions into a holistic view of each student, helping educators to conduct personalized learning at scale.

To do that, we are helping educators leverage content across a range of programs, including core curriculum, supplemental solutions, and intervention resources. McGraw Hill Plus will translate and provide comprehensive data to teachers in an accessible, digestible way, and recommend personalized learning paths and content for each student in the class. We believe this new platform has the potential to usher in a new era of truly personalized learning.



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