Personalization of Education – What is it and how does it work?

Ppuzzle_pieces_fittingersonalized teaching is a topic that Howard Gardner wrote about in 1983 and it has returned to the headlines again today. A major article in EDUCATION WEEK – Oct. 22 – spills a lot of ink describing various opinions on personalization. This is a hot topic because of new technologies that can gather megabits of information on students. In fact, many edu-tech companies proclaim their value as a means to personalize the curriculum. But, what exactly, does this mean?  Apparently, it can mean very different things to different people depending upon their perspective. There appear to be four major pieces in this puzzle:

1. academic achievement

2. technology

3. instructional setting and configuration

4. non-academic factors

 What passes for personalization is often really the “individualization” of the pace and content of the academic curriculum. This is an old-school approach to slowing down or simplifying the content. Or speeding up and ramping up the expectations. An MI perspective involves the use of a careful description of the students’ unique MI strengths and limitations in the delivery of academic content.

 Technology has many, many uses to give students options and choices regarding their education. The applications are only limited by the well-paid imaginations of edu-tech software designers. Gardner has written at length about the possibility of using technology to make use of students’ MI strengths to maximize achievement and a well-rounded education.  I wonder…is this fast becoming a reality after 30+ years? Maybe…

 The promise of web-based learning has not yet materialized, in  my view. Too many programs are simply digital textbooks where a student is parked in front of a computer reading text instead of in a classroom setting. This offsite learning has its place as an educational option but is not much different from the old self-study strategies of “open the text book and read chapter 1 and answer the questions at the end of the chapter.” But, changing the configuration of the actual school day to involve “flipped” and hybrid curriculum has much potential. I think we’re still exploring those options as a means to engage more students who do not do well in the regular classrooms. These offer the potential to bring the outside world into the curriculum in powerful ways.

Valuing non-academic skills as a means to personalize instruction is at the heart of what MI does but edu-tech and curriculum reformers are too often much too limited in their grasp of what this means. They still keep IQ skills at the core and minimize the importance of “non-academic skills” (and the derogatory term ‘soft skills’) as key players in the students’ intellectual life. They too often overlook the fact that these ‘soft skills’ may well be the key to fully engaging students and maximizing success.