Education Opinion

The Personal Learning Wedge: The Edge is Sharp, the Back is Thick

By Justin Reich — May 13, 2013 2 min read
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Last week, I gave a lecture at the Berkman Center with the intentionally provocation title: Personalized Learning, Backpacks Full of Cash, Rockstar Teachers, and MOOC Madness: The Intersection of Technology, Free-Market Ideology, and Media Hype in U.S. Education Reform. Both of the regular readers of this blog will recognize many of the ideas that have been presented here in the past, now linked together in a larger and hopefully more coherent shape. This post has gobs of media for you to enjoy, visualizations, slides, video and my textual notes from the talk. By way of introduction, let me share this fabulous visualization from Willow Brugh.

In the talk, I try to role model the discipline of asking three kinds of questions when examining new forms of education technology or online learning. First, what values or lessons does the structure of the learning environment teach (irrespective of the content in the learning environment)? Second, what’s new? To what extent do new technologies merely res-kin old, and sometimes very tired, ideas? Third, what are the second and third order consequences of implementing new learning technologies? If something is a good idea for an individual student in a particular circumstance, does it follow that enabling all individuals in similar circumstances will create a better system?

The talk starts by investigating personalized learning, which I chose as a starting point since that particular buzzword has been celebrated by people with very different ideas of education. I try to ask the three questions above: what values are encoded in systems of personalized learning? what features of personal learning systems are actually new? and what might be the unintended consequences of reorienting educational systems to make the individual the unit of analysis of pedagogy and policy.

The edge of personal learning is very sharp and seductive. Who will intuitive object to a “focus on each individual child.” It’s easy to see how these ideas might enter established systems. The back of the wedge may prove to be quite thick. I’m interested that this wedge doesn’t fracture some of the things we most care about in schools systems. In focusing on children as individuals, can we prevent children from being treated as batches, while still enabling people to learn in communities? That is one of the essential pedagogical and policy question that we face.

Below is the video from the talk, my slides, a Storify of tweets from the event, and my unedited talking notes (which, unfortunately, are a bit sparse in some places where I’ve simply memorized sections that I’ve discussed frequently). Enjoy.

Personalized Learning, Backpacks of Cash, and Rockstar Teachers: The Intersection of Technology, Free-Market Ideology, and Media Hype from EdTechTeacher.org

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