The Future of Personalized Learning

The Future of Personalized Learning

Intelligent adaptive technology addresses the need for more personalized instruction in the classroom

Project Tomorrow’s 2012 Speak Up National Research Project provides insight into what parents, principals, and other stakeholders would like to see in terms of technology, in and out of the classroom. These results can inform administrators’ plans and decisions. This web seminar, originally broadcast on July 11, 2013, addressed the respondents’ different views on the benefits of digital content in the classroom, the importance of personalized learning, and how specific technologies can be used to individualize instruction.

Julie Evans
CEO, Project Tomorrow
Chief Researcher, Speak Up National Research Project

Speak Up is a national research project that’s conducted by Project Tomorrow, a national education nonprofit. It is conducted through online surveys and backed up through focus groups. We make our online surveys available to any K12 districts that would like to use them to collect their own authentic stakeholder data. We have surveys for parents, teachers, students, and administrators. We share the national data in web seminars and national reports, but more importantly, we give back their own local data to every participating school and district. You can use your own data to inform your own programs and plans. The questions on the Speak Up surveys concern learning and teaching with technology. We do ask different questions of different audiences, and we do ask all respondents to talk about a wide range of emerging technologies and how those are being used in and out of the classroom. The data I am sharing with you today is from Speak Up 2012; we collected about 466,000 surveys from 8,000 schools and 2,400 districts around the country.

We think the bridge from getting from a digital conversion to meeting the needs of today’s digital learners really focuses on personalized learning. It’s sometimes easy to talk about personalized learning as an abstract concept. It’s not just about bringing tablets into the classroom or e-textbooks or offering an online class. It really has to deal with a shift of attitudes and values. Our surveys revealed that students in grades three through five typically use the internet outside of school for game play and internet research. Some new things we are starting to see is that the younger students are getting involved in text messaging and photo sharing. We have also seen middle and elementary students creating and posting videos online over the last few years.

Quite often, students are accessing this rich internet activity through a personal mobile device. We have seen a large growth over the last 18 months in students having access to tablets and digital readers. Of the surveyed third through fifth graders, 41 percent of them told us they had access to a tablet. Students are also using the internet at home to help with schoolwork; 71 percent of upper elementary students use the internet on a weekly basis for their schoolwork. A growing group is using some sort of mobile device to do that. Students are also doing internet research and playing games in the classroom, while elementary students are taking a lot of tests online. We see that students are starting to have access to online videos in their classroom, as well as use email and text messaging with their teachers. Just over half of elementary parents said it is extremely important to have technology in their child’s school day. That number is fairly comparable to high school and middle school parents.

A majority of principals also support this notion. When asked about their top concerns about technology use in their child’s school, elementary parents responded that they feared there are not enough computers for every student and that tech use is too teacher dependent. Overall, we have seen an increase in parent interest in digital learning because parents are becoming digital learners and using a lot of this technology in their personal lives. In the last five years, parent access to mobile devices has grown incredibly. Parents of elementary students are also increasingly using social media. This may have something to do with the fact that they are a slightly younger population than middle and high school parents. Social media use by parents correlates to how they would like to be engaged by their child’s teacher or their child’s school, particularly in terms of school-to-home communication. Thirty-six percent of parents of elementary students want to receive text messages from their child’s school or teacher. They are also very much interested in a mobile application. We asked principals about the benefit of using digital content in instruction. Elementary school principals are particularly interested in using digital content to increase student engagement and motivation. They also see a strong relationship between the use of digital content and the opportunity to personalize learning, as well as the opportunity to improve the quality and relevance of the instructional material.

We also asked principals about intelligent adaptive software. Elementary principals told us they really liked the idea of intelligent adaptive software because it can provide that “just right” level of personalized learning. It can also provide teachers with an opportunity to differentiate instruction in large classes. They responded that they believe it provides students with self-directed learning. When we asked principals about the teachers they will hire in the future, they responded that they will seek teachers who already know how to use technology to differentiate and personalize instruction. Principals want upcoming teachers to source and use digital content tools, and leverage instructional games.

Neal Manegold, NBCT
Curriculum Producer
DreamBox Learning

Many teachers try to tailor their instruction the best they can with limited hours and resources. One way they attempt to differentiate is by using math packets. You can give students different math packets at different times. This is adaptive insofar as the pacing is adaptive, but you are not actually laying out different pathways that a student may take through curriculum. At DreamBox Learning, we approach personalization a very different way. Since our founding, we approached instruction and learning from the idea that all the assessment needs to be seamless. It needs to happen in the moment. In DreamBox, we track, analyze, and respond to everything a student does. We use this information in the point of instruction to adapt subsequent instruction. We build our lessons from the ground up to be adaptive and spend about four to six weeks concepting out a lesson.

As an educator, I know it is impossible for teachers to spend four to six weeks creating every lesson in the classroom. We are not prescribing content to students. We are not simply picking out chapter four or page 71 or this workbook and assigning it out to a child. We’re trying to personalize while the students make their way through the content and tailor it directly to them. Learning is intensely personal. We have a commitment to each individual child; we want to make sure that if a child is interacting with a computer or using digital content, that they are doing so in a way that honors their strategies. That they are doing so in a way so they can work through a problem. We love to say that if you have a computer lab of students working on DreamBox and you have 30 students, they are all working on something very different. This is not necessarily intuitive at first glance. Two students may be on the same problem, but may be receiving very different hints or very different support when they are correct or incorrect. We want to personalize the experience moment to moment.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws071113


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