Beware of the Personalized Learning Propaganda

By Jane Robbins - Posted at Truth in American Education:

The lust for money and power drives a lot of bad public policy. This truism certainly applies to education, where technology corporations have joined Brave New Worlders in seeking to implement technology-driven “personalized learning” (PL). What these forces won’t admit (or at least not in so many words) is that the goal of adopting education by machine is to (1) replace genuine education with training for workforce skills, and (2) eventually reshape individual personalities, attitudes, and mindsets to better fit the government-approved mold.

But even if the goal of PL really were to bolster academic content knowledge by improving instruction, modern cognitive science suggests this can’t happen. A recent article by Benjamin Riley explains why. Writing for an issue of Educational Leadership devoted to “Getting Personalization Right,” Riley begins with this wry observation: “with the exception of the article you’ve just started reading, nearly everything you read in this magazine about personalized learning is probably wrong.”

Riley defines PL as a system in which the student has greater control over the content and the pace at which he learns, with some use of technology to customize learning. He begins by reviewing the research about PL’s effectiveness. Asking what evidence there is that PL works, he answers his own question: “Virtually none.” The U.S. Department of Education has funded PL in 21 school districts to the tune of half a billion dollars, but two research studies have shown no significant effect on student outcomes. Riley found only one study, by the Rand Corporation, showing any positive effect on student learning (and that in elementary but not secondary grades), but he notes that even that study’s lead author cautioned against “buy[ing] into the advocacy around how great [PL] is.”


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