Personalized learning requires more school faculty PD

By: | December 18, 2017

A lack of PD for teachers and principals hinders schools from achieving the full benefits of personalized learning, according to an analysis by MAPLE, the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech Consortium.

Tech industry leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have invested millions of dollars in personalized learning and the requisite technology. However, traditional classroom practices still prevail in most schools, the consortium’s analysis found.

“There’s a lot of experimentation going on with different kinds of personalized learning, but the dominant student experience felt fairly traditional” says David O’Connor, executive director of MAPLE. “The teacher is leading, and everybody is going through similar content at basically the same pace.”

Enough time for tailoring?

While many states and districts have invested in technology, money remains scarce for PD that can make personalized learning effective.

The most common challenges faced by districts, along with teacher and principal PD, include scheduling and funding constraints, and a lack of understanding about what personalized learning looks like in practice, MAPLE found.

Some comprehensive, whole-school personalized learning models result in modest student achievement gains, according to a July 2017 study from the nonprofit RAND Corporation. However, even in the most committed schools, teachers frequently report not having enough time to tailor learning to each student.

PD is needed in a range of areas, including using data to define instruction, online learning, and discovering what motivates students so instruction can be differentiated, O’Connor says. Administrators must also break down silos between teachers and departments to better learn from each other.

Lack of evidence

Strong evidence in favor of personalized learning has not yet been found, according to John F. Pane, RAND Education’s senior scientist and distinguished chair in education innovation.

“While there are opportunities here, it is very early” Pane says. “It is not yet the situation where we can say, ‘You should definitely do this, and you will definitely get good results.'”

Some facets of the approach show more solid, positive results than others, past research has found.

“There’s a promising underlying element here that’s yet to be proven with rigorous research” Pane says. “There are probably some good ideas there, but districts should be very selective in what they latch onto.”

This should not necessarily deter early adopters, Pane says. However, administrators should closely monitor their learning outcomes, and should consider changes to curriculum and instruction if results are not positive.

The RAND report recommends providing teachers with time and resources to pilot new approaches to instruction and to collect evidence of effectiveness. Teachers also need to collaborate on developing curriculum materials.

Administrators not ready to implement personalized learning districtwide can buy individual tech products that have gone through rigorous research studies, Pane says. The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse is a strong resource, he adds.

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