The exponential growth of digital tools, apps and software is changing the way students learn. However, a few people still think that this is a change about how to deliver the same material. Instead, technology is generating a big array of changes to how students engage with what they’re learning; how they collaborate and interact with the huge amount of available information.
Today, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like, but we still want to see increased student engagement in the classrooms. We want students cognitively engaged and not just simply compliant. Technology is a crucial part of what is happening in the classroom, but it’s crucial to remember that pedagogy must prevail. We, far too often, start thinking about the “stuff” instead of what our students need.
The good news is that the new engaging digital tools available can teach not only traditional course material, but also important twenty-first century skills like critical thinking, communication, teamwork, and creativity. Thousands of educators around the word acknowledge that learning is not about delivering anymore, it’s about discovering, aboutasking questions, working with others and finding answers.
At the same time, innovation in technology is becoming useful to evaluate student’s understanding in these digital tools too, so teachers can see actionable information about the performance of individual students or a whole class. We are on the path to personalization.
The challenge: differentiation, individualization and personalization
Almost every teacher wants to personalize, differentiate or individualize learning and instruction for their students. Some people use these terms synonymously, but they are not.
Differentiation is the adjustment of learning needs made by the teacher for different groups of students. Within the same group, they have the same objectives. To adapt the instruction based on the needs of the learners, the teacher must know and understand their competencies.
With individualization, the teacher adapts to the needs of the individual student. Still, the same learning objectives exist for all students, but specific objectives also are provided to individuals. As an example, individualization is provided to students with special educative needs in inclusive classrooms.
Both differentiation and individualization are educational strategies with an educator- centered approach: adjustments are made to increase academic achievement on previously established objectives.
The third strategy, personalization, is student-centered. The learning objectives are different for each student, and the students have a voice and actively participate in designing their own learning model. The student becomesthe owner of the learning path and assumes responsibility. As a consequence, they are more engaged.
However, teachers should be there to avoid learners exerting control in a misguided or counterproductive way, impeding the desired result.
All three strategies above have the same underlying goal and although the most appropriate tools to accomplish the objective could differ, educator’s criteria must prevail. Today, teachers can feel the pressure to use technology at any time, but sometimes pencil and paper still are the best. However, there are great opportunities in using technology.
Learning analytics, a useful tool for personalization
When using digital learning tools, teachers could feel like they lose the track of the learning journey of their students. However, the ubiquitous use of technology could make education rich with almost real-time data on student learning that can be quickly analyzed and acted upon in beneficial ways. Today, we have an array of learning analytics systems available, from the simple reporting tools to the more sophisticated ones tackling the automation of interventions.
With software we could facilitate the analysis of student activity and performance patterns, the identification of at-risk student behavior, and the measurement of learning outcomes against course grades. We can also allow the tracking of KPIs and teachers’ performance through institutional dashboards. Anyhow, whatever the learning environment, the teacher should be responsible for the core and all these analytics tools should be developed in close cooperation with educators.
Honestly, some learning analytics tools look more like a plane’s cockpits rather than easy-to-use tools. That’s because most edtech products start thinking, not about how to aid and improve the teacher`s role, but with a cool presentation of raw data and quantitative statistics. The qualitative is almost as important and there is not a need to measure and analise everything.
If teachers don’t have the skills, time or technology needed to use all these digital tools; if teachers don’t feel like these tools are helping them to improve their teaching experience,we’re not really helping to improve education but just bringing more buzz into the classroom.
Technology should not try to replace teachers. Instead, when it’s developed to help them thoughtfully, teachers can take advantage of technology to manage the twenty- first century learning needs. They can help learners to engage with what they’re learning.