Personalized Learning & Higher Education

I recently drafted a chapter on Personalized Learning and Higher Education for a forthcoming text book; below is the conclusion I wrote.

Conclusions and Future Directions

For decades, conventional, higher education pedagogical practice in higher education has been bound to a standardized, rationalized process, a product of the Enlightenment and its more recent handmaiden, neoliberalism. Through countless ways, from “cookie-cutter” curricula to automated testing, the individual student has been habitually reduced to an abstract, impersonal entity defined by test scores and other numeric identifiers. In this environment, educators have ongoingly faced a challenge: how are they to best understand, perceive and nurture learning in their very real students? From research, educators increasingly know their students’ learning is complex and multi-faceted, guided by varying backgrounds, competencies, experiences and interests. Educators also know that student learning is not sparked in universal ways, but most often guided by individual motivating factors and other psychological drives. And educators know that rote, one-size-fits-all schooling is often counterproductive to reaching students and nurturing learning.

A solution to the log jams created by conventional schooling lies in personalized learning, as I hope I have described in this chapter. Its foundation lies in recognizing the very human qualities that define each and every student in a classroom or home-office, and with whom each instructor is in some contact. A pedagogical relationship rooted in personalized learning calls educators to recognizes students as individuals and adjust their instructional practice – their pedagogy – in some way to help this or that student learn, reflecting their unique personhood. The gestures educators may make to accomplish this need not be grandiose but might be small in nature. Size of gesture will not diminish its effectiveness nor determine its overall impact.

Higher education instructors seeking to personalize learning have many options to consider from capstone projects to differentiating a cultural approach to enrolling students as co-instructors in a blended learning approach. Educators inexperienced in personalized learning but enthusiastic to try it should seek to conceptualize and plan an entry-level project that will afford them a sound opportunity to succeed and build upon. In such case, small steps will likely bring more success and satisfaction than moonshots.

Shifting from conventional to personalized learning will bring much new learning to educators as well as challenges. The conventions of the dominant system, shaped by historical and neoliberal constraints, may appear daunting, even insurmountable. Overcoming them requires careful strategizing and creativity but this can be done. My own experiences bear witness to this as do the legions of educators who are shaping personalized learning innovations in higher education institutions today.

Reflecting on my own experiences and research, I believe personalized learning is a direction whose time has come. My encouragement to other educators new to it is begin where you can.

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