So-called “personalized learning” programs are proliferating in schools across the United States despite “many red flags” as to their effectiveness and the motivations behind them, according to a new report from the National Education Policy Center.
The NEPC says these “personalized learning” initiatives are “fueled by philanthropic dollars, tech industry lobbying, marketing by third-party vendors, and a policy environment that provides little guidance and few constraints.”
“The implementation of personalized learning via digital platforms raises several significant concerns as it outsources decisions about pedagogy and curriculum to unknown programmers,” the authors write. “In doing so, it allows opaque algorithms to generate consequential educational decisions and hands over key school and teacher functions to third-party technology vendors.
“These features create a situation in which: the reality of the digital educational process belies advocates’ pervasive rhetoric; the technology disables or sidelines professional teachers; students and teachers lose privacy as data is collected and sold; and, public education effectively becomes privatized education as control moves away from local education professionals to assorted business interests.”
The authors recommend that schools and policymakers pause in their efforts to promote and implement personalized learning until rigorous review, oversight, and enforcement mechanisms are established.
“Our analysis reveals questionable educational assumptions embedded in influential programs, self-interested advocacy by the technology industry, serious threats to student privacy, and a lack of research support,” they write. “Despite many red flags, pressure to adopt personalized learning programs keeps mounting. States continue to adopt policies that promote implementation of digital instructional materials but that do little to provide for oversight or accountability.”
The report notes that “many well-intentioned educators are attracted to and enthusiastic about the child-oriented promises held out by various approaches to personalized learning. Unfortunately, our analysis suggests that these educators’ good intentions and hard work are likely to be overwhelmed by the corporate march to dominate the personalized learning landscape.”
It continues: “In terms of pedagogy, the digital products that corporations market as an integral part of personalized learning can undermine the ability of educators to provide students with engaging and educative school experiences. Such products subtly subvert teachers’ ability to control their classroom pedagogy, moving pedagogical control to vendors and programmers — thus, in effect, privatizing consequential educational decision-making.”