One learner at a time

One learner at a time

On a recent visit to a large community college in the South, I heard from faculty members about some of the considerable challenges their students faced balancing work, family life, and their studies. Some had not been well-prepared for college. Not surprisingly, many struggle.

I found the discussion a welcome reminder of how important the personal is in education—and how those of us involved in applying high technology to learning should never lose sight of the individual.

There’s been a great deal of talk the last several years about dramatically expanding access to education through the Internet. Many educators have been excited about reaching vast numbers of learners through massive open online courses, or MOOCs. But it’s worth noting that the first letter of the acronym stands for “massive,” because all too often it seems the emphasis with MOOCs is on signing up as many students at possible, not on actually achieving positive educational outcomes. (Completion rates for MOOCs continue to disappoint).

If we’re serious about improving outcomes, however, we need to focus first on the individual learner—and his or her success. We need to create and perfect learning experiences that are tailored for individuals. The idea is to succeed one learner at a time.

We’ve concentrated on that goal at MindEdge. Our online adaptive learning and diagnostic tools are meant to ensure student success by providing the specific guidance a given learner needs. For example, students can take a diagnostic assessment offered through MindEdge’s writing program and surface those elements or topics (grammar, thesis development, tone of writing, etc.) where improvement is needed, and they are immediately connected to learning resources designed to shore up their skills. We also have found that “pre-tests” are a valuable way to help students “fail forward.” (For more on this, see “The value of pretesting.”)

We’ve taken a similar personalized approach to adaptive learning (AL). Relying on the wisdom of experienced educators, we’ve identified content areas where students struggle and responded with layers of scaffolding—additional explanations, exercises, and drills. Students can opt out of this adaptive learning with a click, but few do. The response to our AL has been very positive. (For more on this, see “Adaptive Learning: Exploring the Iceberg”).

There’s little doubt that the digital revolution can transform the way we learn. Starting from the individual student—and getting that experience right—is the key. If we can do that, then expanding personalized learning to large scale will indeed lead to the much-hoped-for transformation of education generally.


Jefferson Flanders is president of MindEdge. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, at Babson College, and at Boston University.
Copyright © 2015 Jefferson Flanders

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