Nothing new: personalized education (but does the article add something new?)

Nihil sub sole novum, we may think the idea of personalized education is new, although defenders of the idea such as Zuckerberg and Gates often refer to a study by Benjamin Bloom from decades ago. But in a new paper published in Nature David Dockterman argues that the idea is even much older than that. But if that’s the case, why didn’t it catch on and even more important: why would it now?

The article pleas for a new kind of pedagogy – and of course that got me triggered – but than seems to fall in many mistakes other people thinking about reform in education have done before by not being critical enough towards both the need for personalization and possible consequences. Biesta describes three tasks of education: the personal development, qualification and socialization. The author does mention something similar by stating

It isn’t enough to scale an instructional system around a single aspect of learner need, like content competence or social acceptance. A robust personalized learning model must respond to whatever needs matter for each individual learner.

But the starting point is the individual. This hides a world view. Nothing wrong with that, but when discussing this one needs to know and acknowledge this. It might also explain in part why some reforms have been failing over and over again…

Abstract of the paper:

Current initiatives to personalize learning in schools, while seen as a contemporary reform, actually continue a 200+ year struggle to provide scalable, mass, public education that also addresses the variable needs of individual learners. Indeed, some of the rhetoric and approaches reformers are touting today sound very familiar in this historical context. What, if anything, is different this time? In this paper I provide a brief overview of historical efforts to create a scaled system of education for all children that also acknowledged individual learner variability. Through this overview I seek patterns and insights to inform and guide contemporary efforts in personalized learning.

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