"Personalized education" is the newest fad in education. Who could possibly be opposed to each student learning at his or her own speed?
But we should be able to see through this scam. We were brought up in the rich context of a classroom. Just as fish are unaware of the water around them, students are often unaware of the rich context of learning together with our classmates in a well-led classroom.
When the teacher asked a question, perhaps your hand went up when others did not know the answer. Or perhaps their hands went up and you thought "Uh, oh. I don’t know the answer." And you listened to the classmate who did know. The book explained the concept. The teacher explained the concept. And now a classmate explained it in words that most could understand.
Such class questioning and discussion serves to keep students moving forward as a group. Teachers use group discussion to detect and correct misconceptions.
And there is motivation in learning together. Left alone, there were those days we might not feel motivated to learn the next lesson. But we came to school and moved ahead with the rest of our class. And on those days when we were excited about the next lesson, we helped energize other classmates who were not having their best day.
Educationists who want every student learning by themselves point to masters and doctoral students who pursue advanced studies alone. But that self-motivation comes with maturity. Such independence was not there when they were in the early grades. Most youngsters need to learn together amidst a group of peers. The teacher is leading a parade that keeps students marching forward and motivated to not fall behind.
The classroom teacher gets continuous and immediate feedback. If every student is puzzled, it is easy to detect that another explanation or more examples are needed before moving ahead. When students’ eyes and their explanations show that everyone understands, the teacher can move ahead. Face-to-face interaction with a classroom of students is efficient. There is no need to waste hours administering standardized tests to diagnose students. A perceptive teacher knows from the face-to-face group interaction exactly where each student is. Less time spent on testing means more time spent on teaching. Stronger students help the weaker students learn. Some students who nevertheless lag may need extra teacher attention; but they also feel the responsibility to keep up with their classmates.
"Personalized" education is not new. Any teacher in the classroom from 1969 to 1973 knows: "Been there. Done that." In 1970, I returned to my middle school classroom in Kentucky from a summer institute at Indiana State University where "individualized instruction" was touted as the wave of the future. I dutifully switched from class lessons to having every student work on individual activities and projects. Combined with "diagnostic teaching" techniques, I gave pre-tests and post-tests for every concept or skill. 180 students worked on 180 different activities.
As lone learners, students learned concepts much slower, were far more likely to gain ownership of wrong concepts, and received no motivation from their classmates to move ahead each day. Needless to say, my overworked colleagues and I returned to standard classroom teaching the next semester, as did teachers across America.
Schools of Education moved on to other fads. But education has a problem with amnesia. They forget what works, and leave good practices behind. And they forget what doesn’t work, and we make the same mistakes again.
So why are we now returning to the old failed "individualized instruction" re-labeled as "personalized
instruction"? The computer-educational complex sees big profits in placing every student in front of impersonal electronic devices that become obsolete in 3–4 years. Testing companies want to sell us programmed-learning and standardized assessments. And schools want to appear teckie.
Repeating this failed educational reform will waste thousands of dollars per class. The cost to the vast majority of our young students who end up learning less by themselves---will be lifelong.