Lori Zalivansky

Personalized Learning: Thoughts from EdMedia 2017

I recently attended EdMedia in Washington DC. I was excited for this conference because this was the first conference that I was attending completely on my own. There’s this tendency when you go to a conference with someone—at least for me—to follow their itinerary rather than come up with your own, so this was a true test for me to see how I could experience a conference completely by myself.

One thing that was really great about this conference was how it wasn’t that large attendee wise. There was a decent amount of people from different areas of the education field but there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of people everywhere, which I felt was a true benefit as it was easier to meet people.

Since this was my first time attending EdMedia, I attended the Newcomer Welcome meeting and they had us do something similar to speed dating where we had 3 minutes to talk to a person and get to know them. This was a great ice breaker, especially for someone who is typically more reserved and has a hard time approaching people.

After the newcomer welcome was the first keynote of the conference, presented by Richard Culatta, who was just recently named the CEO of International Society for Technology in Education. His keynote was all about personalized learning and this topic really stuck with me the most. When he first started talking about personalized learning I thought this was just another term for adaptive learning, but I came to find out that adaptive learning is actually a different learning concept. As a way to easily define the different learning concepts he challenged himself to define each learning concept through a tweet. This is what he came up with:

  • Competency-Based Learning—you move on when you show you can do
  • Adaptive Leaning—technology assigns educational resources
  • Individualized Learning—the pace is adjusted
  • Differentiated Learning—the approach is adjusted
  • Personalized Learning—pace/approach adjusted + student agency

Slide listing learning concepts in Tweet

Adaptive learning solely deals with technology assigning education materials based on the educational needs of the student, whereas personalized learning is dealing more with the pace and the approach as the tweet suggests. But what does that mean?

Richard went on to say how classrooms are too restrictive with schedules and too structured. Week 1 is going to be about chapter 1 and week 2 is going to be about chapter 2 but what if Timmy is still confused about chapter 1 and Sandy is ready to get to chapter 4? How do we address these learners who are on a different learning curves?

This topic stuck with me the most because I was Sandy in school. In first and second grade I struggled in class and acted out a lot. Due to this, the school thought I had a learning disability and needed to be taken out of normal schooling and go to a special education school.

Before doing this they decided they wanted me to take an IQ test and what they found out was that I was actually smarter than the average first and second grader and that is why I was struggling in class. The material was boring me because it was concepts I already understood.

Instead of testing students in the beginning of the class to see where they are, there is this assumption that every student is on the same level and needs to be taught the same way. Richard stated that we have this tendency to evaluate students after a class is over when the data is no longer useful, because if changes need to be made they will be made later rather than during the actual class time.

Formative assessments need to happen throughout the class to gauge where students are. If there are students who are struggling with a certain topic then their needs should be addressed in way that doesn’t disrupt the flow for students who are ahead of the game. These are all great ideas, but how would this work in an online classroom?

In online classes, there is a lot of planning ahead of time and typically a very set schedule and structure. I’ve heard from student panels that they like that structure. For them, knowing all their assignments will always be due on Wednesdays is crucial to keeping them on track.

So how do we throw away schedules in an online class and how do we personalize learning when it feels like there isn’t much wiggle room in an online class? I asked Richard how he would incorporate personalized learning in an online class. He didn’t have time to go into the theory, but suggested using online surveys such as SurveyMonkey. My takeaway is to use this in the beginning of the class to just see what beginning knowledge students have on the subject you are teaching, and if there are those who clearly know very little, you would monitor them more closely to make sure they don’t fall behind.

Another example that I can think of would be more suitable for a hybrid class—the face to face meetings would be used solely to address any concepts that students didn’t understand during the online weeks, with the meetings being optional for students who were ahead. 

I am curious to hear others ideas on how to incorporate personalized learning in an online classroom.

Lori Zalivansky

About Lori Zalivansky

Lori is a native to Northern Illinois, having moved here from Buffalo, New York, at eleven months old. She is the first family member that was born in America, as her whole family is from Belarus, Russia. Although she understands Russian she can only say a few words. Lori got her B.S. from Western Illinois University. She started her college career as an accounting major, but due to a lack of interest, she changed her focus to computer science. This also was not the flame to her candle, so she changed her major to what she got her degree in, instructional design and technology. Lori has been a member of the FITS team for 6 years and counting.

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