Educational Technology: The Shift To Personalised Learning

By Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of Educational Technology, Digital Learning and Innovation, Ashford School

Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of Educational Technology, Digital Learning and Innovation, Ashford School

The offering of personalised learning journeys for students while using new forms of educational technology seems to be the growing promise for our school leaders. At a time where technology is pervasive and information is available at our fingertips, in which learning can take place anytime, anywhere and in any place, it becomes imperative for schools to become edtech ready and offer new learning opportunities that are most frequently afforded outside schools; although some schools may already be in transition. While there are now numerous edtech solutions that offer individualised learning pathways for students, what is available, how much it costs and more importantly, how it is used in education often seems to be lost in translation or completely misses the mark.

To ensure that schools make a solid yet appropriate edtech procurement, it is first necessary to reflect upon how edtech can improve and offer individualised learning opportunities for our students. It is thus vital that we come back to the basics of our teaching and learning approaches and consider the following questions:

What do we mean by personalised learning? How can we use the technology available to improve the learning for our students? What is the role of the teacher? Can the use of technology meet our teaching demands and enrich our student’s learning expectations?

Reflecting upon the questions above, it comes to no surprise that the underlying principles of personalised learning are not new to education. It would be easy to adopt the one-size-fits all approach but as we know it, teachers have adapted to meet the growing and unique needs for their students for decades; moulding efforts to teach unconventional learners to gifted and special needs pupils. At its peak, customised learning encompasses individualising the entire learning experience for a student, focusing not only on the academic strengths and weaknesses but also the ability to shape instruction to meet a student’s interest. This would traditionally entail teacher delivered activities or extended learning opportunities in a classroom.

“Edtech has the potential to make personalised learning appealing and challenging”

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Bring technology into the mix and personalised learning can include project based work, based on learning outcomes academically, but delivered in a manner that may be suitable or shaped by the student’s interest such as a blog, video, or podcast. This is where I quote John Hattie’s work of Visible Learning in meeting our students expectations so that learning becomes relevant and necessary in their times. Such that new learning opportunities afforded by new technologies can offer new skills for the needs of our 21st century learners.

Personalised learning is not a new concept, but with integrating technology, it allows for and promotes student agency and empowerment in which a student has choice for learning based on how they learn best and what motivates them to learn, with the potential of producing an end product to meet academic expectations and student satisfaction. The role and approach of the teacher within this setting then changes from delivering content directly to that of a facilitator who supports learning driven by their students.

If we now revisit the original question for edtech procurement, we should be guided by the fact that individualised learning is served by and not defined by technological tools. There are many edtech products that support individual learning and the market is inundated with companies who claim to offer bespoke educational solutions. However, one solution does not fit all and while one tool may offer a virtual platform for distance learning, it may fall short in creating a real-time one to one mentoring and coaching forum. The good news is that while there may not be one complete package available, there are certainly a variety of tools, which can complement school-wide teaching and offer effective means of personalised learning.

Edtech has the potential to make personalised learning appealing and challenging. What is of key importance is that a school first determines what constitutes as a good or relevant pedagogy. This can be anything from creating new innovate learning spaces to receiving real-time feedback or offering differentiated tasks on personal workspaces to meet individual needs. Potentially, it could be all the above and more. Once these requirements have been realised, schools are then tech ready to take advantage of the plethora of tools available in the market. It is essentially a three-step process: consider the pedagogy, source the tools, and obtain the most cost effective product.

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