Friday, September 13, 2019

Individualized learning

In the K-12 education field today, there's a real push to emphasize individualized learning, or, to use another term that may be thrown out there from time to time interchangeably, personalized learning - this notion that teachers should find more ways to encourage each student to learn on their own terms. To have students learn what they want or need and through the styles that they want or need - visual, audio, hands-on, projects, papers, etc. - is really the goal of this thing we're calling individualized, or personalized, learning.

But in the end, isn't all learning already individualized, whether we're talking structured environments or unstructured activities? And if so, is this movement nothing really more than just one of the latest fads, one of the latest buzzwords, in K-12 education? Now, full disclosure here - I've worked in private sector business all my life so far, and have only been dabbling in K-12 education for less than 1.5 years as a substitute teacher and instructional / special education aide. By no means am I a psychologist, career-long educator, or expert on learning and brain development. I'm merely raising the question based simply on my own observations and experiences over the years as a non-expert lay person and student myself, for whatever they're worth. Let's explore further. We're about to get a little philosophical here.

As I tried to make the case in a previous post, The double-edged sword of technology, each mind is truly unique, and that's what makes every individual truly unique. With that said, if that's the case, then each mind is going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in a truly unique, individualized way.

If you and me are in the same class on whatever - it could be business, math, English, history, any kind of elective, etc. - sure, we're both being exposed to the exact same lectures by our teachers, the exact same assignments, the exact same textbooks and materials, and so on. But, I ask, are they really the exact same? You and me are truly unique, so we're not going to learn, retain knowledge, and make connections in the same ways.

Some examples of where I'm trying to go with this:

You may find one of the course's lessons to be very fascinating. I don't know, maybe this lesson, you feel, is somehow really pertinent to a career you're exploring. Or you just simply find it interesting. Whatever. Meanwhile, I'm bored by that very same lesson and simply dismiss it. No offense to the teacher. I just find that the lesson doesn't mean anything for me. It happens.

I may find one strategy to problem solve that really works well for me, while you may find another strategy that really works well for you. Both strategies get us to the same answer or general conclusion, but we find the other's preferred strategy confusing.

Another, more concrete example here - writing a research paper. We're both given the exact same assignment - the rubric is the same, the general guidelines and overall topic or research questions are the same, and so on. But what I actually research (the sources I consult and cite, the search words I enter into Google or an article database, etc.) and how I write and assemble my paper in the end is going to look very different from yours. It's not the same assignment for us because we're not the same.

What you take away from an assigned reading could be very different from what I get out of the exact same reading. What I find meaningful and relevant from the reading, you downplay and forget about, and perhaps vice-versa.

Finally, high school diplomas and college degrees - we earned the same high school diploma from the same high school in the same year. We then earned the same college degree in the same major at the same university. We both have the same exact sheets of paper, the diplomas, to prove it. Only difference is our names on these sheets of paper. But in the end, we each received very different educations to get there because of all the previous examples discussed - and then some. You may have gotten far more out of your education than I did because you completed more of the assigned readings than I did. You also greatly enhanced your education by learning outside of the classroom, and you took networking far more seriously than I did, so your career prospects are looking a lot better than mine at the moment.

What are your own thoughts and observations here? Can you come up with any examples of your own to add to the discussion? Are there any teachers that want to weigh in? What am I missing? What am I not considering or factoring in?

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