Differentiated instruction and universal design for learning (UDL) have dominated the educational landscape. Student-centered learning has been pushing the capacity of teachers to teach in a more collaborative model that best serves each student. Preparing students for the future has turned away from rote memorization of facts and come into a new era of personalized learning for students. This expectation of personalization is daunting for even the most experienced teacher as there are often 20 – 30 students in K-12 classrooms. Cloud computing and Google Apps for Education have become an integral part of many school districts’ shift to provide 21st century learning opportunities and differentiated instruction for students. Although, there are pros and cons to this shift as stated in the CBC podcast by Young (2018). One con to this Google takeover is that all information is stored in the United States. In the podcast they interview many parents who have privacy concerns and opt to not have signed the waiver schools send home. Although school districts say there is an alternative program available for students if they choose not to sign up for a Google account, there really is nothing similar available. Despite privacy concerns, Google Apps for Education (GAFE) makes it easy for teachers and students to access tools that instantly differentiate how assignments are created and assigned. Google Classroom and Google Sites are areas in which I believe teachers are able to effectively apply the principles of UDL and personalized learning.
What is personalized learning?
Personalized learning “means adjusting the learning experience…showing the learner resources based on age, ability, prior knowledge or personal relevance or giving adaptive quizzes that get harder as more questions are answered correctly” (FitzGerald, et al., 2018, p. 1).
“Personalized learning as a student-centered approach is called for to better align instruction to students’ individual needs and prior experiences” (Schmid et al., 2022, p. 187).
Education is no longer viewed as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It requires a more individualized process and addresses the different learning styles of each student. But as FitzGerald et al. (2018) argues, this is often a more complicated process leading to the content being represented in a different way rather than enhancing the learning experience. In my own context, being a Grade 4/5 teacher, personalizing learning through technology can look like using “different forms of assessment [to] provide feedback to the learner about their learning, and online systems can provide assistance, guidance and advice adapted to their current position to empower learners with the information needed to take the next steps in their learning journeys” (FitzGerald et al., 2008, p. 8). Whatever the technology enhancement looks like, teachers need to receive adequate training on all available platforms and practices.
There have been many studies looking at the benefits and effectiveness of giving students agency over the direction of their learning. A study done in Iran by Manouchehri and Burns (2023) states when students have a participatory mindset they meaningfully engage in their education by exchanging knowledge and sharing common interests with their teachers. Students become an active participant in their learning when their education is centered around their interests and at their learning level. Learning is an active process where the child must be at the center.
Educational Technology (EdTech) introduces information in an engaging way in an online learning environment that is tailored to the needs of each student. I have experienced using EdTech resources at the elementary level including Epic!, ClassDojo, and Book Creator. As EdTech increases its use in schools there must be an awareness of young students “immature cognitive and metacognitive abilities, children often approach learning opportunities differently than adults, suggesting that they need to be supported in developing skills that allow them to play an agentic role in their own learning” (Brod, et al., 2023, p. 4). With teaching in an elementary setting teachers are in the role of deciding how much agency to give over to the student. There must be a balance between letting students freely choose what they want to learn and giving them direct instruction (Brod, et al., 2023). Too often new EdTech initiatives are pushed onto teachers’ agendas with little to no training before implementation.
A study done by Ramasundrum and Sathasivam (2022) found using Google Sites to teach science outcomes positively affected students’ achievement compared to the traditional mode of teaching. Teachers were able to use various teaching materials on Google Sites to tailor learning to the needs of all students. This mode of teaching and learning had “students independently find answers and information by themselves, which can upgrade their responsibility in learning” (Ramasundrum & Sathasivam, 2022, p. 31).
There has been little research done on the impact of technology on personalized learning in the elementary classroom. More specifically, there needs to be more research done on what platforms and practices best enhance student learning. If personalized learning is the best practice for students then there needs to be research done to help guide teachers on the best possible actvities to use with their students. I would like to see more studies done like Ramasundrum & Sathasivam (2022) in elementary subject matter. Technology has been given a greater importance in society and within our education system. Teachers need to be supported in technology platforms and practices that best support their students’ individualized needs. Schmid et al. (2022) argues that:
Implementing student-centered teaching methods supported by technology in class can help to cognitively activate students. Further, if the teacher gives the students the freedom to co-determine the content, the procedure, and the temporal aspects of their learning processes supported by technology, the students might feel better supported individually, which can foster their learning motivation (p. 195).
Finding a platform designed for elementary students that is user friendly and supports personalized learning is a challenge. But recently there have been more studies looking into how technology can enhance learning for students. This gives me hope of finding ways to easily and effectively implement technology to meet the needs of my students.
My updated research question:
- What technology platforms and practices best support student personalized learning?
Brod, G., Kucirkova, N.,·Shepherd, J., Jolles, D.,·Molenaar, I. (2023). Agency in Educational Technology: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Implications for Learning Design. Educational Psychology Review, 35(25), 1-23.
FitzGerald, E., Jones, A., Kucirkova, N., & Scanlon, E. (2018). A literature synthesis of personalised technology-enhanced learning: what works and why. Research in Learning Technology, 26(2095), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v26.2095
Mags, M. (2016). Science Technology Education Research Digital. [Online image]. Pixabay. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/science-technology-education-1182713/
Manouchehri, B. & Burns, E. A. (2023). A “Participatory School” in Iran: A Bottom-Up Learning Approach in a Top-Down Education System. Education and Urban Society Volume, 55(3)
Ramasundrum, S. & Sathasivam. R. (2022). Effect of Google Sites on Science Achievement Among Year Five Students. Malaysian Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 10(2), 24-34.
Schmid, R., Pauli, P., Stebler, R., Reusser, K. & Petko, D. (2022). Implementation of technology-supported personalized learning – its impact on instructional quality. The Journal of Educational Research, 115(3), 187-198.
Young, N. (2018, June 8). 401: Google for education [Audio podcast episode]. In Spark with Nora Young. CBC Radio One. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/spark/401-google-for-education-1.4694935