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Teachers & Students: The Human Connection in Personalized Learning

Using Technology to Support Student-Centered Learning

True one-on-one instruction, custom-crafted to the strengths and challenges of each student, has always been the educational ideal. But only recently have technological advances enabled teachers to effectively achieve that goal.

Personalized learning taps into the almost instinctual aptitude students show for using technology, but it’s much more than just algorithms. When done right, it combines technology-assisted instruction with teacher-led instruction in a purposeful blended model, for engaging, challenging, and rigorous learning opportunities.

Many students today are part of an educational system that’s almost identical to their parents’ system, even though we now live in a dramatically different world. Students typically advance at the same pace through a curriculum, whether they’ve mastered something or haven’t even begun to comprehend it. Personalized learning differs from that system in its focus on one thing: tailoring instruction to meet each student’s needs and abilities.

One of the most widespread and persistent myths about a personalized approach to instruction is that it can’t be done without artificial intelligence or adaptive technology. Many people think personalized learning mostly involves students using computers and technology to work at their own pace. But this conflation is incorrect; technology can only do so much.

Teachers play the most critical role in instruction, providing a powerful human connection and an engaging presence that acts as everything from coach to organizer to leader.

“While technology access alone may not improve instruction or learning, when used effectively, technology has the potential to engage students, empower teachers, and connect them to each other and to some of the best resources the world has to offer. These results do have the power to improve instruction and learning.”

~ Source: U.S. Department of Education

Any teacher can personalize learning for his or her students, and getting started can be easier than one might think. Many teachers may already be implementing aspects of personalized learning without realizing it. Competency-based learning, for example, allows teachers to set long-term goals rather than focusing on more immediate achievements. Flexible seating arrangements encourage student-centered environments. Learner profiles help teachers know their students better and help students know themselves better as well.

Personalized learning basically requires the teacher to meet each student at his or her unique level, providing instruction that is:

  • Customized to enable each student to follow the best learning path, aligned to the student’s interests, capabilities, learning styles, and tastes
  • Paced according to individual student needs, empowering students to advance or focus as needed
  • Effective, not only in meeting rigorous academic standards, but also in teaching the social-emotional skills students will need for a successful education, career, and life
  • Differentiated based on data from assessments, and combined with student feedback, ensuring each student progresses and succeeds

Encourage students to take an active role in their education and contribute to their own learning path. Empower them to set their own learning goals, and work together with them to optimize their learning efforts. Creating a personalized approach to lessons and instruction can dramatically improve students’ learning outcomes. It’s worth the investment. Teachers and students will build meaningful relationships that result in greater engagement and higher achievement. The technology is just the tool; the relationship is the true basis for personalized learning.