COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way public schools will look forever. But many of the changes may not be as scary as they first appear. Many schools in the US have been transitioning over the last few years to a better approach to teaching and learning called personalized learning. Personalized learning is exactly what it sounds like; each student has a personalized learning experience tailored to their unique needs. This is like differentiation on steroids and for schools that have implemented it, they will be well-equipped to meet the challenges of providing a meaningful education to students in a post-COVID world.
According to educational consulting firm Ed Elements (https://www.edelements.com), personalized learning consists of four core elements. Each of these four elements will be discussed below in terms of how they can be applied to leverage powerful learning outcomes from students while respecting social distancing guidelines.
Flexible Content and Tools
Gone are the days of all kids working simultaneously from the same page of a textbook. Students now have access to a myriad of educational software platforms that instruct, evaluate, modify, and challenge them at their own unique level. Most of these platforms give students a sense of autonomy to choose the lessons they want to do next, while having to complete a checklist of items before advancing to the next unit of study. These electronic tools allow the computer to take over the heavy lifting of the direct instruction, while the teacher can work with small groups of students to focus on specific skills and learning relevant to a smaller group of students.
Whether it is remediation or acceleration, every student should be able to move through the curriculum at a pace that is appropriate to their learning needs. While a class of students are working through a learning module at their own pace, the system can instantly recognize when a student has a misconception or when a student needs to move on to a more advanced skill. This targeted instruction keeps the student engaged at just the right level without becoming bored or mentally fatigued.
Student Reflection and Ownership
As students work through the curriculum with the freedom to choose which order they complete certain units (while still being required to complete all objectives), they are able to track their progress towards mastery of each and every learning objective. Mastery is no longer something they must wait on to be bestowed upon them when their teacher grades a worksheet or essay, but rather can see their progress in real time from anywhere with a connection to the internet.
Data Driven Decisions
With all of the data that students, parents, and teachers now have at their fingertips from these personalized learning platforms, students can make more informed decisions about their study habits; parents can make better decisions about the need for academic support; and teachers can provide instruction in small groups that is highly meaningful to each and every student in the class.
The best part about this approach is, students do not have to sit in crowded classrooms to use these tools. While the teacher is still a critically important element of the system, the core instruction can happen at home, in a library, or in learning environments that are spread out. When used correctly, students are able to engage in meaningful learning experiences from a device at home or in the classroom and are working in very small groups with their peers or teachers on learning tasks away from the electronic device.
Implementing personalized learning strategies in the classroom gives students meaningful access to instruction from anywhere in the world and significantly decreases the size of learning groups as students are grouped by ability for each individual skill rather than arbitrarily working with large groups of students or crowded classrooms.
Of course, regardless of the environment the school sets up after returning from quarantine, anyone who has ever worked with children understands that kids in groups are drawn to each other so parents must evaluate and decide for themselves when they feel is the right time to send their kids back to school, but when it is time to head back to school, embracing a personalized learning mindset will allow students to go further, faster without having to worry about the fear of interruption from a global pandemic.