Personalized learning is an educational approach that tailors the learning experience to the specific needs and preferences of each student. It recognizes and strives to accommodate differences in students’ backgrounds, learning styles and abilities. As a result, each student deserves an education that is tailored to their individual needs and characteristics.
Technology plays a pivotal role in facilitating personalized learning, particularly through the application of data analysis and artificial intelligence (AI). Additionally, interoperability is a fundamental component in the realm of personalized learning, significantly enhancing its effectiveness and practicality. Armed with this holistic perspective, educators can make well-informed decisions about tailoring individualized instruction to effectively address the unique needs of their diverse student population.
Recently, EdSurge had the opportunity to speak with Justin Rose, the senior director of product management for data and analytics at Anthology, a provider of AI-enabled learning solutions. Rose shared his excitement about using technology to generate “novel, actionable and timely insights” to improve student learning experiences and operational efficiencies.
What does it mean to personalize learning? Why has it been a challenge for edtech companies to deliver effective solutions?
Rose: Personalized learning goes beyond tailoring the pace and the content of education to individual learners, though that is certainly part of the definition. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also about creating an effective, ethical and equitable educational experience for every learner. That involves understanding the learner’s cognitive style, their cultural background and even their emotional state or sentiment. It’s a multidimensional approach that respects the learner’s agency and the unique learning pathways that they may be on. And importantly, it also incorporates ethical considerations, ensuring that the technology used is transparent and data privacy is maintained.
I believe that personalized learning can democratize education, making high-quality learning experiences accessible to diverse populations. It can be even more impactful when it is supported by the kind of real-time, data-informed insights enabled by innovative technologies that institutional leaders can leverage for continuous improvement to the benefit of both learners and educators.
However, the challenges that are inherent to effectively implementing personalized learning, powered and extended by solutions that offer advanced analytics and AI, can be daunting. There are ethical considerations around data privacy, algorithmic transparency and equitable access that are paramount to going about this personalized-learning effort. There’s also the challenge of ensuring that technology augments the human element in education rather than replacing it. So I think that involves and necessitates a significant shift in mindset for educators who have to learn to integrate technology into their teaching methods both effectively and ethically, but also a shift for administrators, policymakers, and other campus stakeholders who must reimagine conventional higher education technology ecosystems in their lived institutional contexts.
Another challenge that the sector is witnessing, perhaps more in the pedagogical dimension than the technological, involves the role of the educator, whether in-person, online, hybrid, high-flex or what have you, evolving from exclusively functioning as a lecturer to a facilitator or a coach. When this evolution matures, the result is a reshaped learning environment that operates as a dynamic and interactive space where students are actively engaged in their learning journeys as opposed to just having information shared with them. Shifting from teacher-centric to learner-centric education is a paradigmatic shift that we have known is necessary and that has been engaged along a number of fronts for some time now. However, the pandemic, a rapidly changing labor market, skills-based requirements for the occupations of the near and far future, and the evolving technological landscape have catalyzed and accelerated that shift of pedagogical focus from the teacher to the learner in recent years.
How does AI contribute to creating more personalized learning? How do data and analytics tangibly improve the classroom experience?
The perception of AI often simplifies it as one-size-fits-all, but in reality, AI is a diverse field with various algorithms and applications. In education technology, this diversity offers numerous opportunities to enhance personalized learning, from machine learning to predictive analytics, enriching educational experiences.
AI can act as a catalyst for educational innovation by providing insights into the most effective types of content and strategies, guiding continuous improvement. It’s not only about making education more engaging; it’s also about making it more effective. When students are engaged, they’re more likely to retain information and apply it in a practical context, which is the ultimate goal of education.
A data-informed classroom provides another lens through which to view and evaluate student performance, complimenting educators’ own expertise and intuition. This allows educators to address issues before they become problems, allowing for more targeted and effective interventions.
However, it’s important to note that data does not replace human judgment. Data can be a tool that can greatly enhance the education experience when used responsibly and ethically. Real-time analytics provides a level of granularity that was previously unattainable, enabling ongoing data-informed adjustments to the curriculum.
It’s not just about improving academic performance, though that is an important component. It’s about making education more equitable and ethical. By continuously monitoring the effectiveness of various educational strategies, instructors, advisors and other key stakeholders can identify and address issues of inequity and bias and ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed.
Learners in a personalized education system are active participants in their educational journeys rather than passive recipients of information. AI should empower them to explore their unique strengths and challenges, set their own goals and monitor their own progress. This increases motivation and engagement by instilling a sense of ownership and agency. These are critically important factors in today’s educational environment. Students’ abilities in this environment, such as adaptability, critical thinking and self-directed learning, are exactly what they will need to navigate the complexities of the 21st century job market.
What is the significance of interoperability and integrated data models in the context of education?
It is really a matter of enabling meaningful, impactful decision-making at every level of the institution. Interoperability, integrated data models, advanced reporting and data exploration tools help to democratize insight and institutional intelligence across the organization. This means administrators, leaders and decision-makers are able to be more effective and move from the intuitive and anecdotal to the data-informed.
We know that the demands on and workloads of university faculty and advisors are significant and growing. Anthology offers a forthcoming advising tool that surfaces crucial learner engagement and performance data and helps educators make timely interventions. For example, one advisor shared about reaching out to a student whom they noticed in the progress tracker was having some difficulty in the course. The student later told that faculty member that if it weren’t for that contact that the instructor made — if they hadn’t reached out when they did — they wouldn’t be enrolled anymore. They wouldn’t be at the institution! The use of this technology by a human with the capacity to care and reach out made all the difference in helping the student to retain and persist at their institution and to continue their educational journey.
The focus really remains on meaningful human interactions. Educators can use data and insights to guide student interactions, ensuring the technology enhances rather than overshadows the human elements of education.