Supporting Diverse Learners: The Pros and Cons of Personalized Learning
Today’s college students are unrecognizable from just a decade ago in their use and adoption of technology. Technology permeates every aspect of college life and has changed the very fabric of how we teach and learn. A recent posting by Inside Higher Education reports that 70% of college students say that they cannot do research without technology. In 2009, students spent $13 billion on electronics. The increased adoption of technology by college students is matched only by the exponential growth in the number of online and blended courses offered by colleges and universities around the country. Over half a million more students enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2010 compared to fall 2009, representing a year-to-year growth rate of 10.1%. The ramifications of this “technology phenomenon” are still evolving. The stakeholders are numerous here, and the stakes are high. Of particular significance is the lack of understanding of the implications of technological innovations and eLearning on students who learn differently, such as students with Learning Disabilities (LD), including Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The opportunities and potential for gain from technological innovations for students with LD are too high to ignore.
In recent years, the idea of personalized or customized learning based on technological affordances has garnered much attention from educators and education foundations alike. One such framework is adaptive learning. Adaptive learning promises to deliver personalized learning that meets the unique needs of individual students. This promise, if fulfilled, will address a major issue of accessibility for a growing number of students for whom traditional online education has been less than effective. The most common approach to adaptive learning is the use of knowledge tracing algorithms to link responses on multiple choice assessments to specific content areas thereby allowing remediation to focus solely on those areas that the student had not yet mastered.
A pilot study conducted in 2014 at Landmark College in Putney, VT, using an adaptive learning platform for college-level statistics for students with LD, was both informative and revealing. The most effective and popular element of the course was the use of video content designed with high level of instructor social presence within a digital learning community. Discussions and group problem-solving can often be effective tools in a traditional classroom, but require significant effort to orchestrate for the adaptive learning platform. Given multiple options to engage, such as visual with or without audio overlay, video streams and so on, students noted that multiple options to engage led to information overload. Content in video format was preferred over other modalities. Also, many students are simply unaware of their learning preferences and may struggle to work independently towards a learning goal. This raises the question – How can we fulfill the potential of personalized learning while addressing the inherent challenges faced by diverse learners in online courses? National Science Foundation sponsored research at Landmark College is leading the way on practices for online learning for students who learn differently. # See http://www.landmark.edu/institute
Manju Banerjee is the Vice President, Educational Research and Innovation and Director, Landmark College Institute for Research and Training.
Dr. Dahlstrom-Hakki earned his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His research has primarily focused on two areas: new methods for teaching STEM to students with disabilities; and using eye-tracking technology to study the cognitive underpinnings of information processing.