Education Opinion

Separating the Personal from the Personalized

By Justin Reich — August 27, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over this summer, I’ve written a few posts about the emergence of “personalized” learning as a theme (or a buzzword) in contemporary education, and Will Richardson recently jumped in with a comment and with what I think is a useful distinction.

I wrote that personalized learning means two things:

1) “using technology to individually diagnose student competencies on standardized tests and then apply algorithms to adaptively deliver appropriately challenging content to each student to help them perform better on those tests.”

2) “technology opens a world of information and expertise to every student, empowers students as explorers and creators, and lets them follow their interests and passions in diverse directions.”

Will writes in his comment that we should refer to #1 as “personalized learning” and #2 as “personal learning.” He goes on:

I'll probably go to my grave trying to argue that distinction, but I don't want my own kids' learning to be "personalized." I want it to be "personal." I want the system to find ways to support their personal learning in ways that develop them as learners who can succeed with any learning task they face, not just the ones we give them.

I do think that it’s useful to use different terms to connote these two different definitions, and I hereby officially endorse Will’s distinction and encourage everyone else to as well.

That said, and this is important, most people in education policy are not following the Twitter conversations of progressive online educators. So, it’s important when engaging with broader audiences not to present these definitions as widely accepted (which they aren’t), but to make the case that they are useful for clarifying the use of a word, “personalization,” that lots of people are using to mean very different approaches to education.

In recent talks (here’s a slide deck from Harvard Project Zero’s Future of Learning Institute), I’ve been using a pair of videos to clarify these different meanings, promotional videos from Khan Academy and Roadtrip Nation. These videos celebrate Personalized Learning and Personal Learning, respectively, and they are a useful introduction to different (potentially contrasting, potentially complementary) approaches to education.

Gates Notes: Khan Academy and Teachers of Los Altos

Roadtrip Nation Introduction

I can’t embed this video, so you’ll need to go directly to the page, but it’s worth viewing.

Check out the video at the top of this page: //roadtripnation.org/.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.