In a Personalized Learning Environment, What is the Role of Technology?

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Conversations about personalized learning and technology should be grounded with this: technology is a tool but teachers are the key to personalized learning. Much has been made about the connection between technology and personalized learning. Can you personalize learning without technology? Yes, but technology is a great tool in implementing personalized learning. Is personalized learning driven by technology? No, it’s driven by good teaching and strong student supports centered on the needs of each student. Is personalized learning really about putting kids in front of screens and pressing play? No, technology is a tool, like a pencil or protractor or composition notebook, that helps bring learning alive, provides opportunities for practice, and a connection to the world of work.

In a personalized environment, what is the role of technology?

  1. Technology is additive. Technology, whether a tablet, laptop and/or online program or platform should add to great teaching in the classroom. The goal of personalized learning is to meet each student where they are. That goal can only be accomplished by capitalizing on engaging direct instruction, project-based learning, cooperative learning and blending in technology. Technology can help students fill in gaps to their learning, advance their learning through greater depth of exploration, connect students to experts in the field and to simply write, revise, and publish a research paper.
  2. Technology needs to be implemented naturally. Think about the classroom as an ecosystem. Technology must live in balance, in concert with the other learning options and modalities. It cannot overwhelm the ecosystem or the ecosystem will become unbalanced and will not provide vibrancy for all students. In fact, an over-reliance on technology means that the learning environment is not personalized because a student, all students, need multiple ways to interact with and demonstrate their mastery of key content knowledge and skills.
  3. Technology extends the benefit of a great teacher. To meet each student where they are by providing engaging instruction, the just-in-time supports, and key real-world learning opportunities, technology must play a role. This can manifest in a flipped classroom allowing for technology to be a dissemination of direct instruction from that great classroom teacher allowing for practice and application to happen in the classroom under the expert tutelage of the teacher. Technology plays a role in organizing the day-to-day classroom activities by allowing students to rotate between small group instruction, to online practice, to group work with peers. Also, in rural areas in particular, technology can allow more students to have access to advanced coursework through video-based lessons or distance learning-based options.
  4. Technology is invisible to kids. We often forget that technology is invisible to students. Remember, they are digital natives. They have grown up with a device of some sort in their hands. They don’t even think of it as “technology;” it’s just life. They are partners in code with their devices. We are the weird ones treating classrooms like airplanes asking them to power down. Its normal for them to toggle between research, the paper they are writing and the rubric the teacher gave them for the project all the while listening to music on Spotify…that is their normal.

Is technology the educational silver bullet or the end of public education as we know it? No. Neither. It is a key tool for personalizing learning, driving deeper engagement and preparing students for an ever-changing, technology-rich environment. Think about it this way. The planes that we all fly on have a ton of technology on them to aid with navigation, controlling the plane and communication (among other things) but we still need pilots, right? No matter the technology in the classroom, we still need teachers, great teachers, to help students grow their love of learning and master the content and skills they need to be successful. Technology is a tool but the teacher is the key to personalized learning.

Taking the time to address common misconceptions and concerns about personalized, competency-based education and spark those conversations that will further your district’s mission for all students is essential. Will students spend their whole day on a tablet or computer? What role does the teacher play in a competency-based classroom? Is competency education just another workforce model? Get answers to these and more questions with grounded, common-language responses that will make it easier for you to have those critical conversations necessary for success.