Dispelling the “Impersonal” Myth of Educational Technology

Posted by Zack Blois on Jan 14, 2014 3:05:00 PM
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We’ve been conditioned by decades of science fiction stories and movies to believe that technology is inherently cold, impersonal, and destined to enslave humanity…

While these overlording HAL 9000 or Skynet-type fears may be better left to the pages of novels, comics, and screenplays (scary hexapod robots withstanding), there is still quite a bit of prevailing thought that smart "machines" are often rigid and not very accommodating to the individual user.

In the same vain, personalized, technology-based learning is often met with a lot of skepticism from educators who envision their students taught by an “impersonal computer”. And, on the surface, that skepticism may come with good reason.

How can educational technology “mold” itself into what each student needs?

The answer to that question is actually, "it doesn't." Instead, I believe the recent advances in educational technology finally give educators the tools needed to provide a truly personalized learning experience.

4 reasons educational technology enhances personalized instruction

The quick list below breaks down four reasons why educational technology enhances an educator's personalized instruction abilities:

1) Offers engaging avenues for every learning style

As we all know, no two students learn in the same way. Some like to manipulate objects while others have to hear or read instructional materials to understand. But let's be honest, its tough to differentiate equally in a traditional classroom setting of 20-30 kids. Instead, the class often learns together as a unit, whether a kid’s ideal learning style is being addressed or not. That sounds pretty “impersonal” to me.

By combining your instruction methods with differentiated learning technology, you can regain that personal instruction connection with each student. Via both physical and online/mobile differentiation resources, avenues are opened for students to learn in their ideal learning environment and via their ideal learning modality/modalities (auditory, visual, and/or kinesthetic).

By leveraging the connection between environment and modality, you can better scaffold the needed deeper learning at the students’ needed level. Instead of teaching the class as an impersonal “unit”, you are helping students meet their learning goals as a personalized group of peers.

2) Provides more instruction flexibility

Engaging, effective online learning content takes a lot of the day-to-day burden off of teachers, whether it be grading homework or creating worksheets. The new-found instruction time allows you to work more closely with students in smaller groups or even one-on-one. 

Doing so allows you to take a few instructional chances that you may have thought was not possible in the traditional classroom setting, like experimenting with new pedagogies such as:

These fun and engaging strategies give students a chance to expand on basic skills and concepts to scaffold and practice valuable higher-order thought activities. The strategies also often create formative assessment "nuggets" that will help you become more attune to your students’ individual strengths and struggles.

3) Produces real-time assessment and reporting

Imagine an educational EKG machine, where you gain a real-time, personalized view of where a student is and where he/she needs to go to meet their individual learning goals. The combination of your own classroom experiences/observations and the data provided by educational technology can give you just that.

To provide a truly personalized learning experience, instruction strategies and methods must create a constant state of formative assessment. Educational technology enhances your ability to collect effective formative assessment observations and data, and, in my opinion, the data and information you receive from formative assessments is about as far from "impersonal" as it can get.

4) Enables customizable curriculum options

Now, let’s put those formative assessments and progress observations to use! In a traditional setting, it’s impossible to reach every student, every time. That construct tends to leave struggling learners and high performers out of the instructional loop. However, the personalized aspects of a customizable curriculum allow you to meet the curriculum needs for all performers for (possibly) the first time.

lmsimageIf Johnny needs to review place value to the thousandths place, you can immediately assign an activity to him that covers just that via the click of a button. At the same time, Jane may be really excelling and is interested in learning about the value of decimals to the thousandths place. You can assign her a separate decimals online activity that is a bit more challenging. Both students are in the same class, but have entirely different learning goals and needs. That’s serious personalization -- both on the spot and in real-time.

Finally, I believe a major component of a successful personalized learning environment is transparency between all stakeholders. If used correctly, many functions of educational technology cater directly to positive transparency. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the student can visualize exactly where the student is, where they came from, what the next step is, and where the student is going via a solid learning management system and open communication of “why”.

Tell us your personalized EdTech stories!

Obviously, these four points are certainly not the only aspects of educational technology that help educators create personalized learning environments.

What are some of your personalized learning strategies that utilize EdTech?

Strike up a conversation with the Wowzers team on our Facebook Page or Tweet us at @Wowzers.


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Topics: Personalized Learning

Wowzers is a comprehensive online math program covering all Common Core State Standards for grades K-8. The research-based program adapts to each learner and allows for an individualized path through the curriculum. Content is presented in multiple ways, and appeals to tactile, auditory, and visual learners. Assessments mirror those found on high-stakes achievement tests and provide teachers and administrators with the information that they need to personalize learning for each student.

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