Are we becoming a world of individuals? The personalised learning approach.

Visit a restaurant or coffee shop in your local town and watch the groups of people who are sitting together. How frequently do they check their phones? Are they engrossed in conversation, or glued to their screens? Are the adults chatting whilst the kids play on devices? Jump back thirty (or fewer) years. What would the situation have been like then? Which would you consider the preferable situation to be?

Now let’s turn to the classroom. One buzz-phrase at the moment is “personalised learning”. Other phrases such as “learner profile”, “individualised learning pathways” and “competency-based learning” all point towards a greater reliance on technology in the classroom. Is this a good thing?

Girl in classroom looking at tablet
Girl in classroom looking at tablet

The role of technology in the classroom

Technology opens up all manner of opportunities for learning, reduces printing and paper costs (and so, in theory, the environmental impact of education) and helps teachers manage their classrooms. Surely we should embrace every opportunity to provide an individualised programme for each child, given the regular criticisms laid at teachers’ doors that half the class can’t keep up or is not being challenged enough? If a school could provide a device and a “personalised learning” programme on it for each pupil, ensuring they were asked to tackle exactly the right level of material for them, why would that be a bad thing?

Let’s take a classroom environment – what makes it fun and engaging for the kids? The teacher first – they work extremely hard to attract and keep the attention of every pupil, whilst delivering a curriculum that is jam-packed with material. They spend much of their free time determining what additional materials might inspire Class 4B and creating lesson plans that will keep even the naughty boys on task and, more importantly, not disrupting the other pupils.

Let’s now look at the room itself. Most classrooms are laid out so that pupils sit around a larger table for much of the time, in a group with others. They share the pot of pens in the middle of the table and have to work co-operatively so that everyone can use the green pen when needed.

Finally, let’s consider the role of the interactive whiteboard. Gone are the days of white chalk and dust - today’s blackboard equivalent allows for teachers and pupils alike to create material that moves, makes noises, flashes, disappears – almost anything can be done on an interactive whiteboard! This tool can be used so that pupils can demonstrate their thought processes and understanding to the class as a whole - collaborating and learning together.

Female teacher engaging with girls in classroom
Female teacher engaging with girls in classroom

Personalised learning v. the more ‘traditional’ approaches

The results? Well, these could be mixed, but what is guaranteed is interesting and varied lessons that involve all the senses and encourage engagement between teacher and pupils and amongst the pupils themselves.

Let’s finally consider the alternative. Personalised learning on individual devices, ensuring that every child reaches the targets set for them – but at what cost? Think again about the restaurant table. Which table would you want to be – the one from the 1980s where, for better or worse, people had to talk and parents had to keep their kids engaged (and therefore well behaved) – or the one today where devices rule and conversation takes place in a virtual world?

By Sarah Marsh, Director of Operations at MagiKats HQ