Four Reasons to Worry About “Personalized Learning”


Reposted from Alfie Kohn’s Blog:

Personal learning entails working with each child to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests. It requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well. Personalized learning entails adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores. It requires the purchase of software from one of those companies that can afford full-page ads in Education Week.

For some time, corporations have sold mass-produced commodities of questionable value and then permitted us to customize peripheral details to suit our “preferences.” In the 1970s, Burger King rolled out its “Have it your way!” campaign, announcing that we were now empowered to request a recently thawed slab of factory-produced ground meat without the usual pickle — or even with extra lettuce! In America, I can be me!

A couple of decades later, the production company that created Barney, the alarmingly friendly purple dinosaur, sold personalized videos called “My Party with Barney.” You mailed them a photo of your kid’s face and they digitally attached it to a generic animated child’s body that “plays” with Barney in the video. Your kid’s name is also inserted into the soundtrack every so often to complete the customization, with Barney enthusing: “Have a balloon … Abigail!” The result may have delighted, or even fooled, some three year olds. But why in god’s name are adult educators buying the equivalent of My Party with Barney in order to boost their students’ reading scores? How can we tell when the lovely idea of personal learning has been co-opted and then twisted into PLI? Here are four warning signs…

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