A version of this post was originally published on April 13, 2021, in Independent Education Today.
Education technology (edtech) is on the path to conquering every classroom. With schools opening their gates again, the forced transition to online learning environments from the past year has made it clear that a hybrid learning model works and should continue to safeguard and minimize future disruptions to learning.
Read more: How to get started with hybrid teaching
Digital tools and software can enhance the teaching and learning experience to the point of replacing face-to-face interaction when needed. Of course, that is not ideal, as both teachers and students need to connect in person, but there are some aspects of the virtual world that make it necessary in education.
Learning is a profoundly unique process. Each student learns differently and overcomes various challenges, and celebrates small victories in their individual way. Considering that the average classroom has tens of students (hundreds for Higher Education), it’s impossible for a single educator to differentiate instruction to meet each student’s needs — without help, that is. This help comes in the form of edtech.
4 Ways teachers can use edtech to create personalized learning experiences for students
Edtech can be used to streamline processes for teachers or school management and provide a way of offering a more personalized learning process to support each student, no matter their level, ability, or location. Here are a few directions in which edtech is developing, paving the way for personalized learning:
As soon as they’re old enough to type, people turn to the internet to find answers to their questions. Students make no exception. If they want to learn something or clarify a concept, they’ll find a relevant video in no time. With remote learning, video has become the only safe way to interact with peers during the school day.
Many students already preferred video for studying because it engaged more senses than just reading or listening. The flipped classroom is a great example of using video to deliver instruction, and its use during lockdown has soared. The method optimizes the time teachers and students spend together in the classroom. It allows teachers to ask relevant questions and explain harder concepts as long as students watch the video lesson before class.
The good news is that creating a video is not that complicated. The current video technology does most of the work for you. The even better news is that students can be involved in the process once everyone is back in the classroom; they can even lead it. Green screens can be a great and inexpensive option as long as teachers keep an open mind about it.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the current educational system is its obsession with standards: every student should learn the same things in the same way at the same time; otherwise, they fail.
But things don’t really work that way, and the pandemic has made that very clear. Each student has their own interests, learning strengths, and pace at which they progress. By forcing a certain way of doing things, standardized education can’t possibly meet all students’ needs. It becomes a fertile ground for widening learning gaps.
Educators should teach for mastery, not for test scores. Students shouldn’t move on to more advanced parts of a subject until they prove they can master the more basic parts. In this way, they build knowledge on top of a solid foundation and are less prone to drop out.
It can be challenging for teachers to adopt this approach, keeping in mind the many standards they have to meet, but it can be done with the right edtech tools. For example, a school learning management system (LMS) with mastery-based features allows educators to set rules that will show or hide certain learning content to students based on their previous activities and results. This can be accomplished without drifting away from standards.
Read more: The 6 principles of mastery-based learning
Continuing the idea that each student has a unique set of learning needs and a way to absorb knowledge, the ideal learning process would also adapt feedback and suggestions every step of the way.
Adaptive learning systems learn about the student as the student learns and tailors the next steps the student can take in the learning platform based on previous ones. For example, whenever a student makes a mistake, it can send a notification that offers extra study resource suggestions. It can unlock more advanced modules for additional credit.
Everything runs on “If… then…” statements. Even though an adaptive learning system is based on automatic rules, those rules are designed by the teacher. The teacher’s ability to identify and select the most appropriate options is crucial.
The potential adaptive learning brings to the table is huge, both for regular and special education. It’s an enormous stepping stone on the path to truly personalized learning and learner-centric teaching.
Students learn best when they’re immersed in a subject. And what better way to achieve this if not by including immersive learning technologies in the classroom? The most popular examples are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, but Mixed Reality, 360° pictures and videos, and 3D simulations also top the list. These technologies provide the highest degree of interactivity of all edtech, and students of all ages love them.
Even though the costs may still be a bit prohibitive, the tide is turning for the better. For example, a VR headset can retail under 10 USD, and most educational VR and AR apps are free to download and use.
There are still programs to be implemented and studies to be made before we can reach a conclusion regarding the efficiency of such technologies on academic outcomes: are they really that good, or are they just the latest fad? Until then, there's no denying that immersive technologies do impact student engagement and open new possibilities for the future of education.
Placing the students and their learning needs at the heart of each educational initiative helps them succeed later in life. Edtech plays a crucial role in achieving this through the various ways it supports educators in creating and delivering personalized learning experiences for every student. Even though it’s a challenge, we have already taken a few steps on the path to personalized learning, and schools shouldn’t stop this positive trajectory with edtech, even with Covid-19 easing and students returning to a sense of normality.