Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Huge Problem With Personalized Learning In One Sentence

You know there's going to be trouble when you see the headline of the article on eSchoolNews-- "Taking personalized learning to scale." But then, this is a business that regularly uses the oxymoron "mass customization" without irony.

But two paragraphs in, Dr. Monica Burns, curriculum and educational technology consultant and founder of,, is quoted from a webinar:

When it comes to student engagement, Burns said, “We want to make sure that we are capturing student attention by having students’ eyes where we want them to be or their hands where we want them to explore.”


Dr. Burns does has some respectable credentials, including six years teaching in South Harlem and actual degrees in education. But she loves a lot of tech programs; she's also an Apple Distinguished Educator.  Maybe the quote isn't an accurate representation of her ideas-- but it's the quote eSchoolNow chose to use, even as they position her ideas as similar to iNACOL, the big Personalized [sic] Learning pushers. The article itself is filled with lots of edu-babble, such as:

Enjoy our new personalized seating.
Through curriculum mapping, school-wide goals, and thematic exploration, school districts can establish norms and clear standards connections for personalized student experiences. Resources should be curated and differentiated and ready for individual students

There is a lot of technocratic baloney going on here, along with this tell about how we really want to scale up:

Resources can be distributed to individual students using digital tools so that students experience content that is relevant to their goals and interests.

So there's the picture. Personalized [sic] education delivered by computer, padded in bureaucratic blather, and-- well, somehow the individual student will follow her own educational muse through instruction geared to here by the computer algorithm, so that she can enjoy a personalized learning experience as long as she has her eyes and her hands exactly where we want them.

If you find personalized [sic] learning kind of creep and unappealing, this may be what you're reacting to-- the notion that we deliver instruction geared to an individual student not because that will allow that student to grow and learn and develop into her own best self in her own best way, but because by delivering a "personalized" lesson, we can better get the student to do exactly what we want her to. The Personalized [sic] Learning that we're being pitched isn't about reconfiguring the whole educational experience to be centered around the individual student, but another tool to get students to behave like good little widgets in a technocratic edu-system. This is not personalization aimed at better serving the student; it's personalization as a tool to get the student to better serve the system. "If we customize the seats and the restraints, then maybe the monkeys won't fight back so much when we strap them into the capsule and send them into orbit."

1 comment:

  1. Here's what I always wonder, when I read crapola like 'content that is relevant to their goals and interests:' Who is going to suggest or initiate a relationship to this 'content?' Who is going to plant seeds that might, maybe, lead to Average Kid being interested in something, let alone passionate about that something? Where DO those nascent interests and goals and curiousities and questions and pushes toward skills and knowledge come from?