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Is Big Data the Answer to Personalized Learning?

A combination of the right technology and educator guidance produces optimal differentiated instruction
Phil Steitz
Phil Steitz

What is the role that online learning technology plays in creating personalized learning paths?
Technology should be one part of an overall blended solution that includes insights from educators and curriculum designers. Online learning systems use data on students’ successes, engagement and struggles to deliver personalized learning experiences. Teachers and students themselves also play key roles in maximizing the value of personalized learning programs.

How can we create these paths in a way that is sound structurally?
The key is to start with a robust decomposition of the educational content and the relationships among the content items. Online learning paths can be dynamic and personalized, but teachers should continually engage students, intervening when necessary and augmenting the online experience with other activities. Students should have the opportunity to ask for more instruction in a certain area or for information to be presented in a different way. Structurally sound learning paths consist of flexibly delivered structured content that has pedagogical integrity. Online learning systems keep track of students’ progress and manage their progression through the material.

Data plays a big role in informing personalized learning. How can administrators make sure this is a transparent process?
The data algorithms in online learning systems can be complex, but it is important for administrators, teachers and parents to understand what data is acquired and how it is used to personalize learning. What we do not want is a student missing out on whole content areas because an online system has tracked them through a path that avoids those areas, or sending students down a sequence that is too simple, leading students to receive an incomplete learning experience. More and more, I believe questions surrounding how algorithms work will arise. So it is essential to be as transparent as possible about what data is collected, and how it is used and maintained. It is also essential to comply with all applicable privacy laws.

In what ways can educators be empowered to enrich their students’ personalized learning experiences?
Online learning systems should clearly communicate to a teacher when a student is having trouble with a topic or needs more reinforcement in the classroom. We want teachers to have timely, actionable information about students’ progress and challenges.
In addition to empowering teachers to supplement the learning that goes on in the online system with activities in the physical classroom, the course customization element of Edgenuity’s system allows teachers to plug in their own content directly. Leveraging their observational knowledge of their students and their experience as educators, teachers can customize entire courses in Edgenuity.
Blended learning is typically thought of as an integration of online and offline learning, which is true. What is emerging now is a second blending dimension: integration of data-driven instruction and scopeand- sequence learning. At Edgenuity, we are building products that achieve the right balance on both of these dimensions—online learning that integrates and complements offline activities and pedagogically sound instruction delivered via a personalized, data-informed student experience.

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