Three paths to personalised learning

A computer is much more than a slide projector or a video player. Yes, it can do the work of those devices without breaking sweat but this is hardly what they were designed for. A computer is not fulfilling its potential by simply pulling in information from a data store and delivering it out to a screen and speakers. It has a powerful processor for a very good reason – so it can act on the input it receives from a user and configure an experience that is tailor-made to that user’s needs. Basic stuff.

Except, nearly forty years after the advent of digital learning, the vast majority of learning experiences delivered by computers are anything but personalised. In the context of digital learning, computers are still behaving as slide projectors and video players.

Learning is more effective and more efficient when it is personalised. Good teachers are not just purveyors of a curriculum. They develop insights into the students for whom they are responsible, so they can customise the examples and analogies that they provide, offer helpful feedback and respond to varying degrees of progress. In other words, they behave like intelligent computers, shaping the experiences that their students receive.

Teachers provide one route to personalised learning. Trouble is, they are expensive and good ones are in short supply, so what other options do we have? Well, we could just throw open the doors to all our content and allow learners to choose whatever they want, whenever they want it. After all, no-one knows better what a student needs than a student, right?

Well, sometimes maybe. If a student is already well versed in the subject they are studying and has developed good study skills, then they may make sensible selections from learning content. They have what psychologists like to call metacognitive skills – put plainly, they know what they know and what they need to know, and they know how to close the gap. However, many students are not metacognitively skilled and, if left to their own devices, simply flounder. We should be particularly concerned about novices, who benefit most from high levels of support.

Luckily, we have a third option and that is adaptive computing. We craft digital learning experiences which behave like the best teachers, only more consistently and considerably more scalably. At a very basic level, we already have the tools to do some simple things: we can provide differentiated feedback depending on the answers that students provide to our questions – to provide at least an illusion of a teacher-learner conversation – and we can fashion branching scenarios that simulate real-world problem-solving situations. We can set up diagnostic quizzes which help learning platforms or learners themselves to make better choices about what they need to study.

Except we don’t do these things very often or very well.

Outside work, our employees are spoiled by the adaptive experiences provided by apps such as DuoLingo and the Khan Academy. They are gaining real benefit from interacting with a computer, not just to look at videos and page through slides but to experience the personal touch they would normally associate with a good teacher. No, we don’t have access to the armies of software engineers that support such high-profile products, but we could do so much more with the tools already at our disposal. Give your computer a treat – ask it to do something a little more demanding than shuffle slides or play videos.

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By admin on 19th January 2018 · Posted in Local Naija News

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