The co-option of the term “personalized learning” by billionaires and Silicon Valley start-ups is, for all intents, complete. Software is the path to an “education.” Deep data drives the delivery, and assessment is built in. From a curriculum standpoint, the machines can construct the recipe for “achievement” far better than the humans.
That’s the new, for profit story of learning in the modern world.
But as Lewis Perelman pointed out in comment on one of my blog posts from a few months ago, there’s a fatal flaw in that scenario. Put simply, we can’t have everyone get As. And if “personalized learning” achieves its goal, that’s exactly what would happen, right?
That would mean that the “academic-bureaucratic complex” that serves as the core of our education narrative would be “gravely undermined.”
The last thing those who pay high taxes and steep tuition for academic “excellence” want is to become denizens of Lake Wobegon where “all of the children are above average.”
So Gates, Zuckerberg, and their cronies are playing a can’t-win game. If their version of personalized conformity actually were to achieve equality of results, it would destroy — or be destroyed by — the very standard-setting apparatus it courts. And if (really, when) it fails to achieve equality of standardized outcomes, then it will simply be viewed as a failure.
So in the context of school reform, Gates’ notion of personalized instruction is bound to be just one more in a long string of barren initiatives.
What won’t fail in this information, knowledge, people, and technology abundant world is personal learning, pursuing a curriculum that WE develop to serve our learning needs and desires, maintaining the healthy diversity of learning and exploration that societies require to evolve. The type of learning that, as Perelman notes, “is what humans of all ages did for thousands of years before school was ever invented.”
If we mean learning that the learner really owns and determines, let’s make sure we call it what it is: “personal.” The “personalized” ship has sailed.
(Image credit: Redd Angelo)