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Leading Personalized Learning: Digital Programs Help Meet the Needs of all Students

Using technology to individualize learning environments

Personalized learning solutions are helping educators leverage digital curriculum technology to create individualized learning paths for each student based on personalized and adaptive instruction, while helping to provide remediation for struggling students, supportive practice for on-level students and enrichment for advanced students. The leading personalized learning curriculum programs are based on decades of rigorous research and apply learning science to engage students, empower educators and improve outcomes. 

In this web seminar, presenters discussed how personalized learning solutions can help educators gather data to monitor academic growth, as well as apply data effectively to individualize learning pathways and improve classroom learning environments.

Jason Green

Executive Director

McGraw-Hill Education, School

Shawn Mahoney

Chief Academic Officer

McGraw-Hill Education, School

Jason Green: Right now in education a lot of terms are being thrown back and forth, sometimes being used synonymously. But there are key differences in some terms that I think are important to expound upon, the first of which is “differentiation.” This is where the teacher drives instruction and adjusts learning needs for groups of students—with “groups” being the operative word. Then we have “individualization,” where the teacher drives and accommodates learning needs for an individual learner. Finally, we have “personalization,” where the learner and the teacher collaborate to drive learning and to determine the needs, plan and learning design for the learner.

Personalized learning is similar to differentiation and individualization in that they each provide different learning experiences in content, process and output. A learner in the same class could be applying different content, different subject matter, and learning in different ways. Where personalized learning is different from differentiation and individualization is that it becomes more student-centered and increases student agency.

We’re hearing more and more this notion of choice and voice, and we’re also hearing about how the learner is becoming a co-planner and co-creator of their learning. This can be planning and designing conferences where the student is genuinely involved with the teacher. This could mean ongoing formative assessment where the student becomes an authentic owner of their data. It could also mean creating student-learning portfolios where students are involved in real-time and ongoing reflections of their learning, self-assessment, and demonstrations of their learning.

There’s one final term that I think is worth spending a little bit of time on, and that’s this notion of “blended learning,” which according to Christensen Institute is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace. This involves a teacher or facilitator, and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrative learning experience.

The key models that we speak of in blended learning are station rotation, whole group rotation, flipped classroom and individual rotation. We found in our research that there was more technology integration than blended learning taking place. This is a key distinction, because technology integration just means that you purchase a laptop, or iPads, or Chromebooks, and you put them into a classroom. But the actual work of truly ensuring that students take some level of ownership, ensuring that there’s a coordinated program, that agency is involved, is something more elusive.

Some of the key hallmarks of a very sound blended implementation include personalization of course, agency, student ownership, and a chance for students to demonstrate their learning to an authentic audience that’s beyond the teacher. We also believe wholeheartedly in connectivity, where students have a chance to do significant amounts of collaboration and connecting with their peers, as well as with individuals outside of the school.

Shawn Mahoney: In education and in learning science, at our core we’re experts in learning and pedagogy. The media may be transforming, yet it’s not entirely new for us.

The digital age is not something for us to fear. It’s a question of how we use the medium to help us approach our work differently, and to identify the affordances and limitations of technology. It’s all about learning and the learner. At McGraw-Hill Education we’re focused on the act and the aspiration of all different dimensions of learning and how this comes to be enacted within the student experience.

There’s a dance between the art of teaching and the science of learning. For example, when we think about how are we utilizing applied learning sciences to enhance instruction, that’s where we’re looking at different dimensions of the student experience. There’s a place for researchers, and obviously students, teachers and parents all play an essential role too. We see this as a symphony, where we’re all playing our parts coming together in this ecosystem to optimize the instructional experience.

There are questions related to the development method, about how we are approaching this particular pedagogy, and how it’s manifesting itself with the tools of technology to help individual learners, and what we can learn from feedback mechanisms. There’s also the way that we build the tools based on learning science. This is about evidence-based design and deeply embedding iterative work with teachers and students in classroom scenarios, and even in mock classroom scenarios where we’re doing lightweight testing with these materials.

The learning science work and the research life cycle is deeply rooted in data analytics. Educational leaders are talking about big and small data. The data related to teaching and learning moments allow individual teachers and students to look at actionable insights about progress toward a learning objective. This allows us to move forward and think about what’s the next right thing for that student.

First, we have to be humble about the notion of creativity and how students are actually going to approach problem-solving in novel ways, and to be prepared to capture those creative cases. Second, we have to think about how we’re utilizing the technology to inform a personalized learning path.

We think about technology as a tool, but a tool that has to be fit for purpose. It’s not just about the right tool, but it’s the right tool at the right time for the right student for the right reason. So don’t lead with the devices. Lead with the learning. It’s about purposeful learning—what are your learning objectives, what is your instructional model, and what are the right tools to help you meet those needs?

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit: