Superintendents in Connecticut (CAPSS) have endorsed the idea of putting children in front of machines and calling it “personalized learning.” As Wendy Lecker shows in this post, this machine work is neither “personalized” nor is it “learning.”

 

How can a machine be more “personal” than a human?

 

 

Lecker writes:

 

 

In CAPSS’ incoherent version, schools will no longer be age-graded, students will design their own curricula and progress when they develop “competencies” rather than completing a school year. Rather than being grouped according to age, students will be grouped according to “mastery.” In order to progress to the next level, children will have to undergo four standardized tests a year.
Of course, any system that depends on standardized tests for advancement cannot be “personalized.” In addition, the CAPSS plan institutionalizes tracking; a harmful educational practice rejected by the Connecticut State Board of Education. Worse still, CAPSS’ version of tracking, where there is no age-grading, would humiliate a student who fares poorly on standardized tests by grouping her with children years younger than she.
The CAPSS muddled vision also proposes students not necessarily learn in school, meaning that much learning will be conducted online; a method with little evidence of success.

 

What should school look like?

 

 

If we are concerned with our children’s development into healthy responsible citizens, then personalization should mean that schools should focus on relationships — with humans, not computers. Relationships with teachers and other students are the key to keeping students engaged and in school. A longitudinal study of diverse California high schools confirmed previous research that students who feel connected to their teachers improve academically, engage in less risky behavior, and are more likely to complete high school.

 

Another recent study comparing “personalized learning” to a control group in traditional schools found that students in the control group “reported greater enjoyment and comfort in school, and felt their out-of-school work was more useful and connected to their in-school learning.” As Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw recently observed in the New York Times, “after 30 years as an educator, I am convinced that the ideal experience for a student is a small class that fosters personal interaction with a dedicated instructor.”
The need for human interaction to promote effective learning is rooted in brain development. As neuroscience expert Adele Diamond has written, the brain does not recognize a sharp division between cognitive, motor and emotional functioning. Thus, research has shown that feelings of social isolation impair reasoning, decision-making, selective attention in the face of distraction and decreases persistence on difficult problems….

 

A truly “personalized” education would ensure small classes with supports for every need; and a variety of subjects to develop students’ interests as well as their cognitive, motor and social capabilities….

 
Our children are complex, multi-dimensional beings who need deep and rich experiences to develop properly. They are not characters in a video game who just need enough points to jump to the next level. Anyone who cares about healthy child development should reject CAPSS’ narrow and de-personalized vision of learning.

 

 

“Personalized learning” on a machine is an oxymoron.