There’s a great discussion going on about the myth of personalized learning, both at Dan Meyer’s blog and at Benjiman Riley’s. Michael Feldstein has also stepped into the conversation, pointing out the two (or more) definitions that seem to be in play here.
I’ve covered this area more fully before (see last year’s Are Conversation and Customization Orthogonal?). But I’ll just add this.
If you look at the methodologies that have tended to produce great results, structured discussion ranks very highly. That could be peer instruction for physics. It could be one of Dan Meyer’s puzzlers. It could be your Socratic dialogue on the strengths and weaknesses of democratic systems.
I often warn about overgeneralizing across disciplines but let me overgeneralize across disciplines here: if there is one thing that almost all disciplines benefit from, it’s structured discussion. It gets us out of our own head, pushes us to understand ideas better. It teaches us to talk like geologists, or mathematicians, or philosophers; over time that leads to us *thinking* like geologists, mathematicians, and philosophers. Structured discussion is how we externalize thought so that we can tinker with it, refactor it, and re-absorb it better than it was before.
Is personalization orthogonal to structured discussion? That’s debatable, I suppose.
In practice, do the current forms of personalization in vogue (see, for instance, Rocketship) undermine the ability of a skilled teacher to run productive structured discussions?
Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind.
Sure, you can have a book club where everyone is on a different chapter. You can have a meeting where people have read the pre-meeting documents at some random time over the past three months. All these things are possible. They just don’t work that well. If the meat of your instruction is discussion, you have to make sure the personalization approach supports that, and that’s harder to do than it looks.
We’ve gotten so used to running around saying education is broken that we forget what an amazing feat it is that what are essentially biological cavepeople go through twelve to twenty years of talking with other cavepeople and at the end of it can land a probe on Mars or dissect the sociological implications of street art. That’s a lot of success to put on the line on a hunch we could do a bit better if we let everyone go at different paces on their iPads. I wonder how many people realize that?