Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Personalized vs. Individualized Learning

After having read Why Are We Still Personalizing Learning If It's Not Personal?, I felt compelled to offer a slightly different perspective of the term "personalized" and "individualized" learning. Today's views complement prior posts that I have made on the subject.

I agree with the underlying premise that, "personalized learning in practice often falls short..." when it comes to "personalization" of formal education (para. 2); however, I don't think that it's because there is a difference between the terms personalize and individualize.

Let's compare personalize with individualize (my personal favorite definitions)...

  • personalize: 1) to ascribe personal qualities to; personify; 2) to make personal, as by applying a general statement to oneself; 3) to design or tailor to meet an individual's specifications, needs, or preferences
  • individualize: to make individual or distinctive; give an individual or distinctive character to; 2) to mention, indicate, or consider individually; specify; particularize
Although I can appreciate the effort it takes to attempt to distinguish between the two terms, the complexity of what teaching and learning entail makes the practicalities of using these terms differently a bit futile.  So, for the purposes of this discussion, I will use the terms personalize and individualize interchangeably since I have yet to be convinced that there is a reason for separating these two semantically.  
As individualization increases, so does the potential for isolation (para. 4).
If individualize means to make individual or distinctive, I don't necessarily see this as only a social phenomenon.  Individualization (and personalization) is just as much cognitive (internal) as it is social.  Today's technology can use algorithms to approximate ways of facilitating teaching and learning (which I have no qualms about) but what really matters is how educators assist learners in how to become better... well, learners.  Educators can help learners become more aware of how to better personalize their own learning experiences for particular purposes - educators can differentiate instruction but they cannot personalize learning. 

Learning is inherently personalized, there is no escaping it.  Take a group of 40 students who sit in the same class for 50 minutes and each will leave having had a personal experience.  In order to leave with a personal experience, each student personalized automatically (for better or worse) thoughts, behaviors, materials and technologies, etc. in order to realize the experience.  This act of individually personalizing his/her learning could have occurred implicitly or explicitly, but the awareness of how one personalizes learning is where the benefit of understanding a personal learning network (an aggregate of ideas, materials/technologies, and personal relationships) comes into play. 
... if we over-individualize, learning can quickly become impersonal..." (para. 7).
Nothing about teaching and learning is "impersonal".  This is like accusing someone of "having no personality".  Everyone has a personality because... well, everyone is a person.  Since everyone is a person, the act of learning can only be personal.  Therefore, learning is a result of one having personalized certain behaviors, thoughts, and materials for a particular purpose.
 "...I think [we use a web-based, adaptive tool for math instruction] because then our parents don't have to help us with our homework" (para. 12).
In this case, the student is being forced to use a technology without understanding why, how, and to what end.  This is the opposite of personalization.  Any time a discussion or decision is made about using technology without considering other factors like rationales, objectives, higher order of thinking, human relationships, etc., then personalization becomes an afterthought.  The problem here might not have anything to do with the technology but how, why, and/or to what end the technology is being used.

It is impossible to "put the person back in personalized learning" (para. 21) because it's impossible to remove the person from personalized learning in the first place.  As educators, let's learn better ways to empower learners to understand their respective personal learning networks and why, how, and to what end a personal learning network emerges and dwindles (as it never stays the same) over time. If we can achieve this, then learners are personalizing or individualizing their own learning in a more relevant and meaningful way.

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