Personalised Learning: Another Education Fad Or The Future For Australia’s Classrooms?


As the world has shifted from a time of information scarcity to information overabundance, Australian schools may fall behind in the adoption of new learning environments and risk becoming obsolete.

To survive, educators need to understand today’s digital natives, and how the education system can meet the needs of students who have access to a wide variety of free sources of information at their fingertips.

Australia’s teachers are not alone in this endeavour. Educators around the globe are all attempting to define the role of technology in 21st century schools and how to meet the needs of digital savvy students.

The research and development in technology has added new terms to our education vocabulary such as blended learning, virtual learning, online learning, anywhere/everywhere learning and personalised learning, all of which have their own methodologies. What remains constant, however, is that with each new education practice, we redefine where, when, and how learning happens.

The online bookstore Amazon and search giant Google epitomise personalised services. For years Amazon has been sending emails suggesting books I may be interested in based on past purchases. Similarly, when I do a Google search, I know that Google uses my past search behaviour, my online presence and connections, and relevant algorithms to serve up information that is wholly personalised.

Author Cathy Davidson defines learning as a constant disruption of an old pattern. New practices such as personalised learning, replace older ones in a cyclical process. I find this definition particularly appealing as learning is a continuous process that requires us to be constantly exposed to new information, while reflecting on what we know and what we need to know.

Exploring this rationale further, we assume that we can use both technology and human thought to develop education programs that not only encompass what students need to learn and what they want to learn, but where and when the learning is delivered.

This is the goal of 21st century educators, and it is this transformation from old styles of teaching and traditional teaching locations which has an impact on the future of Australian classrooms.

A Digital Future

Technology is such an integral part of our lives that an educational environment where teachers personalise learning based on an individual’s data doesn’t sound as if it comes directly from the pages of a science fiction novel. In this scenario students can log in to their learning platform from any device, and the resources required to support their program become accessible. The available resources are personalised based on the individual student’s learning needs and preferences for delivery.

So how will this help Australian educators to transform their institutions and the delivery of education programs?

Today it takes a heroic effort for teachers to not only meet the needs of every student but to foster a love of learning as well. Yet, institutions across the globe have invested vast amounts of money in technology and resources in the endeavour to deliver engaging programs that meet the individual needs of all our students.

The reality is educators need to connect disparate learning systems together enabling a personalised approach, much like Amazon’s book suggestion service, for the education sector.

Connecting learning systems such as data dashboards, grade books, student information systems, curriculum maps, digital assets, books, learning management systems, professional learning networks and data from RSS feeds and communication is the first step towards the personalisation of education.

Practice What You Preach

Children growing up today have greater access to technology and information than any previous generation. They have the whole world at their fingertips and can interact remotely, not just in words, but in moving pictures and sounds.

Until more recently, their ‘connection was terminated’ when they entered the four walls of the classroom. Yet, these switched-on pupils learn more effectively when their teacher presents information in an interesting and interactive manner and keeps them involved and motivated. The challenge for teachers is how to take advantage of the latest technology in an efficient and scalable manner, to connect in a meaningful way with today’s digital savvy students.

Schools have access to the latest technology at a price, but if teachers don’t know how to use it to encourage learning then it is money wasted. Competence with advanced technology is no longer a skill that can be learned on the job. It’s a ‘must have’ in every teacher’s armoury if they are to equip their pupils with the knowledge and skills to compete in the 21st century.

For many education institutions this means an investment in teacher professional learning to enhance their competence with the latest technology, and instil the knowledge to develop personalised learning programs. To breach the ‘digital divide’ teachers will have to head back to school, and university programs will need to be rewritten to include core training in utilising technology to transform education processes.

Technology vendors such as Dell also have a role to play in the education revolution beyond the provision of hardware and software. Dell, for example, has worked with industry partners and educational specialists to offer professional learning and training to teachers and support staff.

The long hours of professional learning will enable educators to produce ‘digital assets’ based on what students need to learn and how they learn best. The advantage is that teachers will truly be able to facilitate the learning environment and spend more time giving their attention to small groups and individual students.

Redefining The ‘School Structure’

It is possible that in the not so distant future, secondary students will only come to school for collaboration meetings or when they need to be in a seminar. This enables teachers to redefine learning and repurpose the spaces education institutions use for learning.

With pupils spending less time within four walls and more time actively engaged with content that encourages critical thinking and problem solving, institutions could open their doors to community initiatives such as adult learning and special education programs. Schools could become pillars of learning not just for pupils up to 17 or 18 years-of-age, but for the entire community they serve.

As institutions play a greater role in educating the wider community, we may see partnerships develop between the education department and community organisations where the costs of running the school are shared. It is a win-win situation: the education department cuts costs without closing schools, and the community gets a resource that helps individuals reach their full potential regardless of age or area of interest.

In summary, personalised learning enables students to reach their full potential and apply their knowledge to realising goals. This can only occur if technology and programs – created from multiple sources – are aligned with the individual’s needs.

By bringing together these resources and focusing on improving student achievement, companies like Dell are providing educators and student with endless opportunities. More importantly, the adoption of new technology allows educators to define what the ‘classroom of the future’ will look like.

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Adam Garry

Adam Garry

Director of Global Education Strategy at Dell
Adam Garry works with teachers around the world to help them adapt to new ways of teaching and learning, so that students will be equipped with the skills needed for 21st century and globally-minded jobs. Over the past ten years he has consulted with school districts on school reform, professional development, 21st century skills, technology integration, digital curriculum and instruction, and leadership. He also had the opportunity to help facilitate the Partnership for 21st Century Skills professional development affiliates program and ISTE’s School 2.0 workshops. Adam co-authored “Teaching the iGeneration: 5 Ways to Introduce Essential Skills with Web 2.0 Tools.” He has a BA in Elementary Education, Masters in Teaching and Learning with an emphasis on Technology and a Certificate in School Leadership with an emphasis on Technology from Johns Hopkins University. Follow Adam Garry on Twitter @DellEDU and @agarry22.

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