9. Personalized Learning

Tailoring Learning to Individuals, the Secondary Curriculum, and getting rid of the Classroom
The most commonly talked about improvement to education today is personalized learning. And rightly so because of its importance. Today’s education structure is designed to find the best according to the given requirements rather than developing each student. You can imagine it as a diamond mine that is only focused on the sorting of raw diamonds based on the size rather than polishing each one to find out what each diamond is actually worth. The bottom line is, the current education system is more suitable for filtering and weeding out the unconventional and mavericks than it is at developing talent.
The reason for this is because schools have always been designed to share knowledge via a teacher. Having teachers mean that there is a resource limit since there will always be a lack of good teachers. Thus, we have the classroom where we can pair one teacher with multiple students. And with the classroom, it unfortunately means students will have to take similar courses and be measured with similar criteria, regardless of their talents, strengths, and weaknesses. To allow for personalized learning and create a better education environment for each student, it will be critical to lean on technology.
And it’s obvious that this is coming. Education is one of the hottest things in the market and economy right now and everyone is looking at ways to improve it, especially technology companies. To achieve personalized learning, there will need to be a significant amount of support from technology, especially machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Personalized learning can be defined as a tailored curriculum for each individual student based on their strengths and weaknesses. The goal of it is to allow students the flexibility to pick and choose what they want to learn based on their interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Personalized learning should facilitate a students exploration and growth.
In this chapter, I will focus mainly on the methodology rather than the philosophy behind what the content should be.
The most important requirements for success for personalized learning is actually not technology but the following 3 things: 1. An App 2. Skill Trees 3. Gamification
Let me explain.

The App and the Secondary Curriculum

The app is the interface to personalized learning. It allows students to find and discover the content that they want to learn.
To start things off, I want to introduce the idea of the Secondary Curriculum. With the Core Philosophy and Core Curriculum in place, it’s time to talk about the rest of the curriculum, which we will refer to as Secondary Curriculum.
Unlike the Core Curriculum where the content must be learned by every student, the most distinguishing feature of the Secondary Curriculum is that it will consist of courses that are optional for students to learn in the form of a skills tree. The Secondary Curriculum is where all the traditional courses (i.e. math, sciences, and history) will exist.
With the myriad of options, the app handles provides a way in which content in the Secondary Curriculum can be found and accessed. Making it digital means that there can be multiple options of the same material that is tailored for different types of learners, greatly increasing the possibility that we can help our students fully understand the content rather pass over it without fully understanding.
With a Core Curriculum mainly comprising of content from the 3 Connections and a Secondary Curriculum comprising of content that will include both soft skills and hard skills, there will be many options for what to learn.
Because there is no formally structured curriculum for these skills in the Secondary Curriculum, the app will need a way to create progression by introducing content that can be learned without it being too easy or too difficult. That is where skill trees comes in.

Skill Trees

Skill trees can be thought of as a tree with branches. At each section of the tree, starting at the trunk, there are skills that can be learned. As you go higher up the tree, each branch will have it’s own skill and they are all linked together based on the branches they are connected to. The skills lower down are typically the prerequisites to the higher up skills.
Skill trees are often found in role playing games where new skills can be accessed when leveling up and it’s up to the player to assign where their skill points go. The skill trees approach tailors the learning for each individual student by providing flexibility and a marked path that students can embark on.
Using skill trees, the Secondary Curriculum can be personalized. Students get to pick and choose their paths. Skill trees work best when the content can be cleanly broken into bite-sized pieces. An example would be developing content that takes 1-2 weeks to learn and understand. If it takes more than that amount of time, it should be questioned as to whether or not it can be broken down further. It could be a set of vocabulary, a math concept, or a piece of history that is being explored.
The interesting thing about a skill trees format is that the skill tree will be forever evolving. We’re still stuck in the lecture model where teachers share knowledge with students, often times based on text books that haven’t changed in decades. Why are we still using textbooks that don’t change when the world is changing ever faster? Last year’s content might not even be relevant this year anymore.
With skill trees, new content can be added at any time and connected to the skill tree without affecting old content. New content can include additional content based on new knowledge and research or it can be a new way to approach learning content that is already in the curriculum.
The biggest argument against this is that online courses are terrible replacements for the classroom. And I completely agree. Online courses like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been deemed a failure because most people who start the courses can not finish them. But the reason why that is happening is not because there is anything inherently wrong with the product. It’s wrong because it assumes that people can learn when they are not in a learning environment. Why schools and colleges and universities work is because everyone around you is targeting the same thing. People rub off on each other. The environment incentivizes and pushes each other forward via competition and osmosis. Surrounding everyone with people who care about education helps drive each other.
The next question is how do you balance what is learned? With this much flexibility, students can choose what they want to learn and forget about everything else. This is where gamification comes in.

Gamification, Recommendation, and AI

To help control and nudge students in the direction we want them to go, we will be using gamification. Gamification not only can be used as an incentive to study the content that we want them to study to balance out their knowledge, it is also used as an incentive to study at all!
The reason why a lot of roleplaying games are so much fun is because as a player, you can see the progress your character is making, which gives the player a sense of accomplishment. This is what needs to happen with our education. With the app and skill trees, we have provided students with a way to track their progress. Now, we just need a recommendation engine that leverages gamification to guide students towards what they should be learning.
Educational organization that already does this really well are the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Scouts programs have the badge system already, which gives the scouts a reward once they accomplish a mission. Scouts are highly motivated and focused when trying to achieve a badge. It sucks them in the same way that a computer game can. This is the type of attitude we want from from students towards their education and gamification is a powerful way to achieve it naturally.
The recommendation engine will probably be the highest tech piece of this entire puzzle. Initially, it will be designed according to what we believe is best for students, but we must allow it to start tailoring the recommendation based on a student’s interest, strengths, and weaknesses with a focus on helping them develop the potential skills they would need in the future, especially those outside of their comfort zone. The recommendation will need a significant amount of consideration and will leverage the technology we have in machine learning to create an artificial intelligence that can adapt to each individual student.

Getting Rid of the Classroom

An interesting by product of the app for personalized learning is that there is no more need for the traditional classroom structure anymore because it replaces the strict structure of a curriculum that all students must follow together into something that each student can study on their own or in groups.
Traditional school systems teaches skills in a classroom where everyone either has to keep up or lag behind. This doesn’t make sense when every student learns every single subject at a different pace. This is a large problem in how we teach our students because each student isn’t getting the right amount of time to fully understand the content and instead, is either rushed through it, not fully understanding what they learned, or they get bored because it’s too easy.
This new found flexibility will finally allow students to study and develop at their own pace. The app will leverage the skill tree and each path will include different courses that the student can take that includes video lectures and project based group work.

Conclusion and Outstanding Issues and Questions

In conclusion, the Stanton Education Concept’s personalized learning is implemented based on an app that uses skill trees and gamification to replace the stiff structure of learning in classrooms, giving students a better opportunity to explore what they want to explore and also to have the time to thoroughly understand what they want to learn.
In the next two chapters, we tackle the questions that is created from this personalized learning system:
  • how do we track the growth of the students if they get to choose what they want to study?
  • who will teach the content in the app?
  • how will teachers organize the students without classrooms?