Personalized Learning Needed in Increasingly Diverse Classrooms, Report Says

Educators’ ability to personalize instruction using technology is imperative as the student population becomes increasingly varied by race, achievement level and socioeconomic status. But a lack of high-quality curricula designed to support that personalized learning is stalling the effort, according to a new report.

Digital Promise, a California-based nonprofit organization, calls for increased emphasis on supports and resources designed for personalized learning with this more diverse student population.

Personalized learning is the concept that curriculum is adapted to serve each individual student’s needs based on their learning style, background, interests and experiences. New technology is key to allowing educators to provide this personalized support, the report says.

Without changes to improve and strengthen personalized learning, the report says, the social and economic disparities and achievement gaps of students who historically struggle in school will persist and grow, and the risk of marginalizing more students increases.

Data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Education have both shown that the number of students from low-income families has increased by 7 percent in the last 35 years. The number of students who are English-language learners has increased by 5 percent in the same time period and the number of students who have been diagnosed with disabilities has increased by 6 percent. This data highlights the changing demographics of the U.S. K-12 student population and highlights the underlying need to rethink the way classroom learning is approached, the report says.

Students who come from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds typically have a harder time remembering difficult concepts. According to Sam Redding, a senior learning specialist at the Center on Innovations in Learning, technology is helping educators individualize their teaching practices to meet the needs of these students.

“Advocates of personalized learning see technology as a way to efficiently connect instruction to each student’s interests, preferences, and needs, and to make practical the advocates’ philosophical predilection for personal discovery and experiential education,” Redding said. “Learning management systems enable a teacher (and the student) to connect learning goals with student portfolios, online assessments, and searchable resources in multiple formats.”

The Digital Promise report further cites examples of instances when researchers tested systematic learning software on elementary-age students and found that these technologies improved student skills.

Personalized learning will be most beneficial to the greater educational community if stakeholders from the business and education world collaborate to create tools and software that allow individual students to learn key skills in the early years of their education and beyond, the report finds.

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