Personalized Learning and the Teacher’s Essential Role: More important than ever

It’s more important than ever for teachers to bring passion and flexibility to the classroom to help today’s changing learner benefit from personalized learning.

In today’s K-12 education landscape, there are few topics as frequently discussed as the role of technology, teachers, and students in personalized learning. While some feel that teachers become marginalized when technology is used to personalize instruction, our view is the opposite: The role of the teacher becomes more important than ever.  

Modern students have grown up in a world immersed in technology like never before; technology is always present and always at the center. Consequently, in contrast to past generations, today’s students have constant and comprehensive access to information. 

The growing availability of technology has also created a shift in how people interact with it. With so many technology options — mediums, devices, sites, programs, platforms, and more — everything can be, and is, personalized. Just like a Starbucks drink order, technology has evolved so that products and services can be personalized to each person’s specific needs, likes, and interests.  

In education, however, technology has been slow to evolve to meet students’ individual needs. The industry is not changing quickly enough to accommodate today’s learners. Instead, it has been stuck with teaching methods that developed to cater to previous generations. As the personalized learning concept continues to grow in popularity, this will change – as evidenced by significant commitments to support personalized learning by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other sources.  

Here are some of the ways educators can adjust their teaching styles to leverage the capabilities of technology and deliver more personalized learning. Personalized learning: 

  • Adapts instructional strategies to fit each individual student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and pace 
  • Blends teacher instruction, technology-based instruction, and student collaboration to tap into each student’s learning style and interests for deeper learning  
  • Relies on teachers using tools and data to make decisions and strategies that are learner-centric and match each student’s individual learning style 

These points focus heavily on the teacher’s essential role in personalized learning. Instead of simply delivering content, educators facilitate learning and growth. They use education technology tools to develop effective, tailored learning programs for each student rather than deliver one-size-fits-all instruction to an entire class in hopes that each student fits the norm. Teachers who seek to provide truly personalized learning must be willing to recreate their instructional methods to take advantage of technology and adjust to the needs of the changing student in the classroom. 

In a September 2017 Brown Center Chalkboard blog, “Personalized learning: The importance of teachers in a technology-driven world,” writer Anne Olson says, “Simply providing access to new types of technology is not synonymous to cultivating transformational change to the traditional, industrial model of teaching and learning that values standardizing inputs and outputs for students. Instead, thoughtfully cultivating the use of technology in the classroom by empowering teachers to utilize the tool in ways that support their learners is critical in the transition to a personalized learning environment.”¹ 

Tools are only as effective as those who possess and use them. Innovative products and programs engage students’ minds in new and effective ways, but technology cannot replace the abilities and passion that teachers bring to the classroom every day. That’s why, unlike in some other industries, teachers will always remain at the center of education. Therefore, educators should ensure that technology serves as a tool to meet the needs of their students — not a distraction from the vital mission of delivering a more personalized classroom experience.  

Rather than providing supplemental activities that students can enjoy while a teacher wades through administrative tasks, technology’s most important role must be to provide a new framework to empower and enhance the efforts of teachers. 

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