Why personalized learning matters

by Amanda Nathuji | July 24, 2018

We all want what is best for our children, our students, ourselves. We want to be as prepared for the future as possible. However, with the overabundance of information available to us today, how do we decide which learning methodology is best? More importantly, once an ineffective learning pattern has been established, can it be unlearned?

Although “personalized learning” can be defined in a number of different ways, it can be summed up as differentiated instruction that supports student progress based on subject matter mastery. It is centered on student interests, ability, and learning style.

For years, students have been forced to conform to a one-size-fits-all approach. It did not matter whether the student was an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. Lectures were given, and homework was provided with hopes that repetition would hammer the material into the learner’s mind. To an extent, this type of model was successful in teaching most students necessary life skills. The real detriment from this approach, though, came when students moved from being taught to being self-learners. When presented with this challenge, many students floundered.

As learning is an extremely complex process, students cannot be expected to navigate it on their own. As champions of their process, we must proactively give them the tools they will need to succeed long-term, and no tool is more important for future success than the ability to self-learn.

It’s time to put the power of learning back into the hands of students. We must not teach information; rather, the skill set necessary to embolden students to become the types of individuals who will continually seek out knowledge, as opposed to passively receiving it. As difficult as it may be, we must not hover; rather, allow the student to struggle with the information on their own for a bit. This struggle enables the student to ask the questions that will lead to true understanding. That understanding will build a solid foundation of confidence on which to tackle future endeavors.

It is important to note that the best way for a student to learn is through experience, and yes, even failure. As a society, we are trained to win. It is our duty to ourselves and the future generation to embrace failure as a banner of triumph that proudly states, “I tried!” Each time we pick up the pieces and try again, that is success.

One of the best ways to support this approach is to demonstrate this type of learning through action. If you are a parent, challenge yourself to learn something new every week. Read an inspiring book, take a class that is outside your comfort zone, or watch a documentary. Then, discuss what you have learned with your children. They should be accustomed to hearing an adult say, “I don’t know, but let’s learn about it.” If your child sees you actively pursuing knowledge, he will be encouraged to do the same when he realizes there is a gap in his knowledge he would like to fill.

Personalized learning is critical to young students, because when they are taught in a way that meets their learning style, they are more receptive to the material. As they gain learning independence, they have a better understanding of how to reach for that knowledge themselves. For example, a visual learner will understand that reading material is often sufficient to successfully master new subject material, while a kinesthetic learner will try to create a hands-on project to ensure that the material is understood. No matter the learning style though, it is also critical that the student be able to pass the newly-mastered information along to others. Few things demonstrate subject matter mastery better than exposing others to the new information through a presentation or a written paper.

Another crucial aspect of personalized learning is allowing for self-reflection. Too often, we are taught that making a particular grade or getting a gold star is the end-goal of a learning exercise. But should the grade be the goal? Absolutely not. Instead of teaching students to validate their learning experience through grades, we should ask questions such as, does the student feel he truly understood the material? Could he have tried harder to accomplish his (self-appointed) goals? Students should be striving to achieve and exceed their own goals, not those arbitrarily set by others.

In short, personalized learning allows students to understand how they learn best, which is a tool they will continue to hone until they are able to learn independently. As parents and educators, it is our obligation to guide students down suggested learning pathways until they are able to pursue their own interests. After all, we aspire to ultimately be relegated to the role of supporter and encourager.

Let’s be part of the movement that inspires the next generation to be self-learners. Let’s give our children, our students, the passion to pursue their interests and the ability to successfully navigate the world in order to achieve their goals. Let’s support their attempts, their failures, and ultimately, their success.

At STEMed Labs, we believe that learning is a life-long process. We learn from our mistakes, from each other, from the journey. Come join us for the journey as we learn through teaching others.