Unconference Meetup, Aug 2017

The Boston EdTech Foundation hosts a Meetup every month where we bring together the community to discuss and share ideas around technology’s influence on education and the way we learn.

Last month, we tried something new! We hosted our first ever meetup using the "unconference" format. Our intention was to engage the community in topics that it finds interesting and spend some time discussing ways to have an actionable impact in those areas. This meetup was also held in a very ideas friendly space, Alley by Verizon, in Cambridge.

Nearly 110 EdTech enthusiasts and professionals came together, picked out topics that are currently trending in the EdTech world and shared their opinions. Everybody went home learning something new. 

This meetup also inspired us to bring out an article series which will cover the range of topics that were discussed in August. We will cover the discussions and conclusions of each group to encourage further discussion on these important areas of education.

For our first ever article, we have chosen one of the topics that was selected by the community - Personalized Learning.

 

Personalized Learning

 

Definition

Personalized learning is defined in multiple ways, however, the crux of personalized learning remains similar – an ability to tailor learning and content based on a learner’s needs, interests, preferences and pace. This concept of personalization has been catching up over the past few years and various institutions, including the Department of Education, have attempted to define Personalized Learning. While there are several terms used interchangeably with personalized learning (such as adaptive learning, competency-based learning, blended learning et al), the Meetup group attempted to define Personalized Learning as follows:

  1. It’s a type of self-directed learning, where the learners - driven by their preferences - define the pace and relevant instructional methods.
  2. Every learner is differently motivated – and when motivation and concepts come together, learning happens!
  3. Technology will be a great enabler in delivering content in a personalized format for different types of learners.

The members of this group had different backgrounds and came at this topic with varied levels of understanding and exposure to this concept. This made for a highly interesting conversation with a multitude of perspectives on the definition and implementation of personalized learning.

 

Some relevant questions

Some of the questions which piqued the interest of the group and led to longer discussions included:

  1. How do we adapt content depending on the style of learning? Will we develop software to personalize the content or personalize the process?
  2. How do we make sure students are actually learning, when everyone is learning at different speeds? How do we define the pedagogy?
  3. When technology forays into teaching, how will the teachers feel?

These were highly relevant questions which many education experts and technology corporations are trying to answer as well!

 

Varied perspectives

As the discussions ensued, and one opinion led to an other, we realized that the above questions were quite inter-dependent.

Personalized learning works well and creates a measurable impact when the content has been clearly defined, and the process of imparting the content needs to be adapted. There are many companies which are using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to adapt to different learning processes. For example, concepts in Math and Science are well defined and the process could be made adaptive. However, the question remained as to how do we use personalized learning for creative fields? How would companies build adaptive software for creativity? How do we test if a software’s algorithm is aligned with how learning transpires in classrooms?

This discussion led to a conversation around a teacher’s involvement in a classroom and how a teacher’s role gets defined from a software company’s point-of-view? As a group, we unanimously agreed on the importance of a teacher in a student’s learning cycle. The question we sought to answer was: how can such an important character influence new learning technologies? Teachers should be made to feel more secure and should be given the confidence that technology will never replace them. Once that happens, teachers will not only feel more reassured, but also will be more inclined to use technology responsibly to enhance their effectiveness in classrooms. This implied that teachers should be more involved in developing software products – they would be able to provide excellent feedback on the design process, which could be incorporated into the development process. How do we find such teachers?! Let’s find teachers who are retired or who are taking a break or who are on a sabbatical and involve them in the brainstorming process!

 

Conclusion

Personalized learning can inspire a student to want to learn! It’s indeed a wonderful thing, and schools (at all levels) should work towards it! There must be an involvement of teachers to get that quintessential perspective on how learning really happens in a classroom. Most importantly, this is a collective effort and there should be a sharing of what works so that everyone benefits. While technology companies still need to figure out which is more important – content or process, one way or another, personalized learning will ensure that no learner is left behind!

Topics: personalized learning, unconference, meetup

Pooja Prasanna

Written by Pooja Prasanna