In previous post about education one of the key factors for inclusive education is the ability to adapt teaching methods, materials, tasks etc. according to learners’ needs and profile. Either by having a co-teacher, a robot co-teacher, a traditional CSCL system or a teleconference based CSCL system the key factor for success is to adapt teaching methods and learning objectives according to students’ needs and performance. Educators need to know how well students perform, what are their strengths and weaknesses and focus on them. This means that the learning process has to be adapted for each student individually and the traditional model of one-size-fits-all teaching and learning should be abandoned. Given however the ratio of teachers to students in schools this means that educators need tools to help them in adapting their teaching methods according to each student. They need tools to support personalized learning and assessment of their students in order to provide better personalized education services.
Today’s technology with all these online courses, teaching material, educational games makes quite easy for educators to track their students’ progress and find out what is needed for each of them. As Darell M. West presents it in his paper titled “Using Technology to Personalize Learning and Assess Students in Real-Time”: “Imagine schools where students master vital skills and critical thinking in a personalized and collaborative manner, teachers assess pupils in real-time, and social media and digital libraries connect learners to a wide range of informational resources. Teachers take on the role of coaches, students learn at their own pace, technology tracks student progress, and schools are judged based on the outcomes they produce. Rather than be limited to six hours a day for half the year, this kind of education moves toward 24/7 engagement and learning fulltime”
This kind of education described is student oriented and adapted according to each individual. In his paper West presents a variety of cases that support this kind of personalization in education and their achievements. One of the best examples is School of One in New York. Students in School of One are not arranged in classrooms where they follow a specific subject according to a schedule as it happens in ordinary schools. They each get a different set of activities for each day based on their progress. This happens because School of One learns about the specific academic needs of every student and then accesses a large bank of carefully reviewed educational resources, using sophisticated technology to find the best matches among students, teachers, and resources. In addition, School of One’s learning algorithm takes up-to-date data about students’ performance and available materials, and creates a unique schedule for every student, every day. This way, individual students are moved ahead only after they’ve demonstrated mastery. Currently the program is running in three middle schools for the subject of math. However, the funding received and the initial outcomes encourage its expansion in more subjects and schools.
Another similar example is the High Tech High (HTH) program running in 11 public charter schools in Chula Visa and San Diego, California. Students at HTH follow personal interests and develop personal portfolios of projects demonstrating their progress in various subjects. Apart from personalization, HTH has also 2 more basic design principles: adult world connection which is implemented by encouraging students to work on companies in internships and “shadow” projects and Common Intellectual Mission which doesn’t separate between college preparation and technical education. The program uses a variety of teaching models assigning a staff advisor to each student who is responsible for the student and keeping contact with the family. Students with special needs receive special attention and are provided with available assistive technologies and solutions to facilitate their learning.
The iZone in New York City is a program that aims to investigate innovative teaching and learning practices in schools based on digital learning. The K12 Company is also another example of personalized learning. In K12 students can enrol in virtual online schools connected public school programs. The program offers personalized learning services for students who want some extra help, feel bored by the pace followed in the classroom or for any other reason they might feel that the education received in classroom doesn’t satisfy their needs.
In general, we can see that personalized learning is a trend in education that seems to spread a lot easier with the use of technology. This personalization, if implemented appropriately, could also help children with disabilities in their education too. They could receive special help on how to use assistive technologies, they could follow subjects on their own pace, get in groups with other students who might have similar problems in same subject and in general follow an educational program tailored to their needs and capabilities. In such an environment, children with disabilities would be included gracefully in a learning environment encouraging collaboration with other students while in parallel motivating them for personal development and learning goals achievement. However, there is a need for research in the area to include even more children with disabilities in these personalized learning schemes in order to identify problems and solutions for them.