Learning as a natural human activity is moulded by personal experiences and cognitive awareness. It is also shaped and influenced by the personal biases, opinions, cultural contexts, and the social environment of the learner. Learning can, in simple words, be stated as a stable and persistent change in not just the cognitive sphere but the whole being of the learner. In other words, learning is what a person is capable of knowing and doing. Such a transformation is a collective pursuit. Learning happens when an individual interacts with others to share knowledge and skills. In this context, we need to understand the idea of personalized learning a bit more carefully and cogently.
In the current learning ecologies, students are navigating the ever-expanding virtual space and are encountering interesting resources, mostly by serendipity. This is the beginning of what can be groomed into what is called Personalized Learning. By acknowledging that students are autonomous learners now, to a great measure, if not completely than ever before, educators are acknowledging the fact that a standardized approach to teaching-learning processes might not be able to answer the demands of this century.
The use of tech-enabled learning has significantly enhanced the potential of personalized learning by opening up new possibilities for learners. In one of the influential books, J. Michael Spector had made a categorical point: “The need to effectively integrate technologies into learning and instruction is becoming an imperative for schools, universities, and organizations that wish to remain on the leading edge of effective technology use.”The recent and ongoing pandemic has made it a reality. A number of recent studies have pointed out the same. A systematic literature review of personalized learning terms (springeropen.com) that analyzed 56 relevant studies based on the research protocol found that adaptive/personalized learning has become a fundamental learning paradigm in the research community of educational technologies.
Education is a contested domain and like many other concepts, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of personalized learning (Holmes et al., 2018). It has been described as being a chameleon; appearing in different forms. These forms of personalized learning are understood as different approaches that are situated on a continuum – from teacher-led classrooms to student-centered classrooms, and with ‘hybrid’ approaches present somewhere in between.
Although the definitions vary, there is consensus on the key aspects of learner-centricity, flexibility, and learner responsiveness that underpin all personalized learning approaches. (Gro, 2017).
The core idea of Personalized Learning presumes that each student is unique and learns differently. If that is so, learning will become a self-directed process if students can understand how they learn, own, and drive their learning themselves. It also implies that a student’s learning needs, interests, and capabilities determine the pace of learning. Personalized Learning strategies, therefore, have several potential advantages over conventional learning methods. It emphasizes that learning is active, and knowledge is built on top of the learner’s context and experiences; the core value behind constructivist learning theories.
A teacher’s view, from our Webinar series Big Questions, in this regard is specially telling:
‘Self-motivation is an important facilitator for students’ adoption of personalized learning. This adoption has grown gradually from the time when we were rather forced into the remote way of teaching-learning. Students and teachers, both, are now comfortable in navigating the world of online learning while taking complete ownership of their learning. We now know for sure that students cannot be kept motivated to learn in a stereotyped model of learning.’
Pradeep Kumar Sarangi
‘Technology-supported personalized learning is the different ways in which technology enables or supports learning based upon particular characteristics of relevance or importance to learners. This may refer to technology-supported instructions in which: the pace of learning is adjusted; teachers or educators instructional approach is optimized for the needs of each learner (e.g. through learning objectives, content, or tools); learning is driven by learner interests; learners are empowered to choose what, how and when they learn.’ (Office of Educational Technology, 2017).
A teacher, Krishna Mohan Sharma, remarks something very important in this regard. Here is what he says:
‘The learning behavior of students is changing. It is more multidimensional in nature. Even before the pandemic the students were not just dependent on teachers but had various online platforms to lean on, but with the onset of pandemic, the requirement of personalized after-school support is formalized. Also, personalized learning must be combined with great instructional design and supported by subject-specific pedagogy to witness a greater impact and effective personalization.’
Research suggests that technology-supported personalized learning initiatives allow each learner to be individually and appropriately stimulated when specifically designed to address constraints on effective pedagogy especially in Low and Middle-Income Countries like India.
Developed to cater to the differential learning needs of the students, Schoolnet’s personalized learning platform called Geneo is a perfect model of a technology-supported personalized learning platform. Mapped chapter-wise to the NCERT textbook, it provides appropriate multisensory learning resources for school grades from 5 to 10. All learning content within Geneo is arranged such that students can follow the same curriculum as being taught in their schools. At any conceptual step, students can take assessments to find their status of learning, themselves. This promotes better overall learning and creates a stronger conceptual foundation. It also offers live classes and several recorded ones as support resources. It has mind-maps to revise a chapter in a crisp manner. In case of any further doubts or confusion, students can reach out for mentor support, anytime and anywhere.
Teachers from our school clientele have the following to say with regard to their experience of using Geneo:
‘A platform like Geneo lays down a productive way for a Blended approach to teaching-learning. The live and recorded teaching sessions that Geneo offers set a very good example for teachers on how they can integrate technology into what they teach and how they teach it. The personalized suggestions for learning resources that each student gets on the basis of their learning needs and levels is an amazing feature. There are learning videos that explain abstract concepts in science and for subjects like social sciences that appear very dry to students. By providing digitized textbooks, Geneo offers a way for teachers to make use of textbooks complemented with other learning resources in an integrated way so that it doesn’t bore the students.’
‘With online learning the agency of learning has shifted to the student. Personalized Learning has a bigger role to play here. It is not just about studying anywhere, anytime but adapting and presenting the curriculum in such a way that a student gains confidence in the concepts she is learning. Personalized learning platforms like Geneo are really helping students with this shift.’
‘Personalized learning brings in a lot of curiosity amongst students which helps them to engage with studies better. Features like mentor support, multimedia content, and unlimited assessments help students to dig deep into their own understanding and hence provide a platform to excel by each passing day. Students were given access to Geneo and we saw students engaging towards studies.’
Geneo offers multiple entry points to a student’s learning journey encompassing the learning continuum. It presents learning resources to match the level of progress understood by students’ responses, to a database of test questions that benchmark the particular student’s initial learning level. The individualized and adaptive recommendations for learning are orchestrated by the use of an AI-based learning assistant.
Listen to a teacher’s view from the Big Questions webinar series:
‘For a teacher, tech-supported personalized learning provides immediate data on how each child is progressing. So if a student is stuck then the teacher can take his practice in the particular area and will be able to determine why she is having trouble. This will help the teacher to intervene and help a struggling learner immediately; help her to move instead of waiting for her to fail before getting the needed help.’
Even though the Geneo platform is designed to be a personalized learning platform, it is being offered as a whole school solution with teachers firmly fitted in the scheme of things. Teachers can use Geneo School for creating effective instructional designs to achieve the desired learning outcomes. So, teachers can offer seamless online classes along with deploying the functionalities of a robust Learning Management System housed within this platform. This synchronization and flexibility of teaching-learning experiences; both during school and after school help teachers and students to be a part of a productive teaching-learning ecosystem that is flexible and adaptable to the dynamic and diverse learning needs of a 21st-century learner. Keeping the imperatives of learning sciences in focus, Geneo aims to meet the required needs of technological infusion in teaching-learning practices.
Ms. Rina Joshi shares her experience with the Geneo School:
‘By taking help from Geneo, teachers can really make their teaching-learning processes smarter. They can, for instance, while teaching about Hitler, show a few scenes from the movie – The boy in the striped pajamas’; she can also tell them or give audio of the amazing Spanish, Holocaust movie ‘Life is beautiful’ to tell them about Hitler’s unfair practices; depending on students interests. Students could only imagine this in an offline class.’
Finally, the pandemic has resulted in a major crisis for the affordable segment of private schools. Adoption of an integrated personalized learning solution holds promise for such schools to enhance their reputation as an institution that values and supports individual student learning. Adopting a personalized learning platform is the need of the time when school education is poised for a paradigm shift for both students and teachers alike. Consistent with the promise of technology-supported personalized learning to customize instruction for each student, integrating personalized learning approaches will substantially increase learning for students, during the current context of mass school shutdowns. Given many learners will likely require additional support to get to the ‘right level’ upon returning to school, technology-supported personalized learning may help most in closing educational gaps for marginalized learners.
- Shraddha Ghumre & Vagish Jha with inputs from Swati Nirantare