Personalization

With adaptive software, recommendation engines, supplemental homework exercises, and highly personalized lesson plans, we can help teachers personalize each student’s learning plan and work with parents to match her learning styles, fill skills gaps, and even help her enjoy school more.

Each student approaches a subject differently, which means that a teacher working from a single textbook must do the best she can to help each child get the most from each chapter.  She can use study questions, or her class discussion, to make sure each student understands the key concepts and how to use them. 

But what if the textbook were dynamic?  What if each chapter could be adapted to match that student’s learning style?  What if a student having trouble with a concept could simply click on a link to drill down into additional information on it, while the student who understands the concept quickly could click on a different link and spend time learning more about how that concept applies to real life problems?

Being able to measure a student’s performance in real time (see “diagnosis”) helps teacher’s manage this challenge.  Today, many online tools are “adaptive,” which means they match the kind of questions they ask, or the difficulty of those questions, to the student’s performance on earlier questions.  For example, a child practicing single digit math facts may have trouble multiplying by eights.  The teacher, noting the pattern of incorrect answers, can give him more practice with eights before moving on to two-digit multiplication.  Across the classroom, the teacher may assign another student more problems with sevens, based on her results.  Some online programs do this automatically.

Online tools also help teachers break their classes into smaller groups, so that the teacher can provide each group with targeted instruction.  In a math class, for example, online tools can help a teacher assign extra practice for students struggling with a particular algebra problem.  For another group, the teacher might recommend extra credit story problems, or reading on how adults are using algebra and other mathematics in their professions.  This kind of personalization improves engagement. 

Personalized learning can also be more efficient.  In a class of 20 or 30 students, a typical lesson goes too slowly for some; too quickly for others.  A teacher learns to balance her lessons, helping as many students advance as quickly as they can, without leaving others behind.  The toughest part?  A student can move from the top of the class, to the bottom of it, and back again, from lesson to lesson and week to week.  With personalized lessons, fewer kids have down time while their classmates catch up, and other students are not advanced to a new concept until they’ve mastered the last one.

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