Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Pricilla Chan, recently announced their plan to donate the majority of their Facebook shares to charity. As part of this plan, drafted in a letter to their newborn daughter, the couple vowed to focus on personalized learning—an approach that uses technology and tools that adjust to a student’s learning needs. This method molds the learning experience to the unique needs of each individual student, giving all students a greater chance of success in the classroom. Not only does this help teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, it also monitors the pace at which each student learns.
Zuckerberg and Chan are excited to move forward with this technology, as noted in their letter. They wrote, “We’re starting to build this technology now, and the results are already promising. Not only do students perform better on tests, but they gain the skills and confidence to learn anything they want. And this journey is just beginning. The technology and teaching will rapidly improve every year you’re in school.” Other groups have already done research on this technology, including the Gates Foundation. In one of their studies, they found that students who used personalized learning tools in the classroom made more progress over the course of two years than a control group.
World-renowned Harvard Professor Howard Gardner, whose 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences revolutionized the fields of psychology and education, wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg and his wife about how they might best approach personalized learning for maximum effect. In his letter, he envisions several possibilities for how the individualization of the learning process may take place. The most popular version—developed in the mid-twentieth century—is a single learning path, in which the pace of advancement is adjusted to the learner. This approach assumes that there is just one way to learn, but allows each student to learn at his or her own pace.
Macmillan Learning offers an array of personalized learning solutions that engage students and save educators time. Our Sapling Learning online homework solution allows educators to tailor their course to administer homework, track grades, and monitor student progress. And our LaunchPad resource allows students to read, study, and practice skills virtually to help them achieve comprehension without putting extra pressure on the instructor. These tools can help students feel less overwhelmed by courses at all levels, giving them a greater chance of success.
Since no two students learn in the exact same way or at the same pace, personalized learning technology is truly a game changer. These tools can help educators identify which areas a student needs to spend more time on, and allow them to advance in areas they have mastered. In allowing students to progress at the pace they are comfortable with, the learning experience will become more rewarding for them. The technology is also beneficial for instructors, allowing them to focus less on delivering content to the class as a whole and giving them the opportunity to support individual students as needed. They can also use real-time date in order to maximize class performance, bypassing easier topics and spending more time on new or complicated materials.
Instructors will play a vital role in the success of personalized learning technology as they interpret the findings and use this new information to tailor their courses to meet the needs of their students. These tools are here to empower instructors, not to replace them, and it’s imperative that these tools are easy to use—for both students and educators. I'll be posting additional thoughts about technology and education on the Macmillan News blog. Check back for my next post!
Strauss, Valerie. (2015, December 2). A primer for Mark Zuckerberg on personalized learning — by Harvard’s Howard Gardner. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/12/02/a-primer-for-mark-zuckerberg-on-personalized-learning-by-harvards-howard-gardner/