Dr. Lilian Bacich is a passionate senior educator who has 28 years of experience in working with basic education, undergraduate and graduate education and is Coordinator of the Active Learning Post Graduation Course at Instituto Singularidades. Author of two books, Lilian believes that changing the mindset to use technology and active learning in favor of the school and teaching depends on personalized teacher training. She knows that this process is not easy and engaging teachers to implement an innovative and personalized project involves all the school community. She holds a doctorate degree in School and Human Development Psychology from University of São Paulo (USP).
Studies on personalization usually generate doubts and indicate a certain impossibility of implementation when we are faced, for example, with the number of students in the classroom and think of teachers who teach for many classes in one or even more than one educational institution. In addition, a recent survey (PANE, 2017) carried out in schools that indicated personalization as one of their main strategies in the last two years, demonstrated difficulty in identifying which approaches that involved personalization were used in institutions and, for this reason, did not present conclusive results. Conceptualizing personalized learning, in this case, would be one of the main needs. What are we considering when talking about personalization? What, indeed, is the role of students and educators? How can digital resources be combined in this approach?
One of the possible definitions is in line with the proposal of Miliband (2006, p.24) when stating that personalizing is not a return to student-centered learning theories, it is not letting students learn by themselves, it is not abandoning the curriculum or the learning objectives designed for a particular year or segment of education, and it is not about letting students choose the learning path they want to follow, at their own risk.
The proposal is centered on the design of the educational path according to a context that makes sense to students, through the provision of learning experiences that are aligned with the possible needs to be addressed within a field of experience indicated for the age group and that, in some way, favor protagonism and the development of autonomy. Personalization is related, in this aspect, to the identification of the students’ real learning needs, individually and collectively, and of the interventions that the educator will carry out in order to enable his students to learn more and better.
To highlight the role of educators in this approach, it is important to analyze the use of digital resources related to personalization: personalized learning is different than personalized practices. Clarifying this point: we often find digital resources, adaptive platforms, which offer activities designed according to the needs of students and that, from an initial test, offer individual courses, with videos and activities to check progress. These activities, in some of the schools analyzed in the study by Pane (2017), characterize personalized practices, but we cannot say that they guarantee personalized learning. Let me explain this point: just offering practices that have been designed according to what the student needs to solve a particular mathematical problem or interpret a sentence in English will present opportunities for the student to practice, but does not identify what were the real lessons learned, or what conceptual advances the practice provided. Two elements are essential in this respect, without devaluing, but without placing any possibility of personalization on adaptive platforms: the design of experiences that can offer opportunities for personalized learning and the evaluation that makes learning visible and that, from it, can new learning experiences can be designed.
Designing learning experiences transform the role of the teacher, who ceases to be someone who transmits contents and verifies if they have been apprehended, for a designer of educational paths. In order to design these paths, it is important that the educator has data in hand, data that is obtained through a formative assessment, digital or not, and that may include adaptive platforms, online questionnaires, in addition to observation, discussion, interaction “face-to-face”. Several researches have emphasized this look for personalization in which students can be stimulated to get in touch with different learning experiences, the ones they need because they have difficulty and those that can offer the opportunity to go further, as they are not related to their difficulties, but to their facilities.
These experiences can involve different elements, digital or not, that favour communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking. Personalization occurs when in contact with different experiences, designed according to the needs identified in the whole class, students are involved in proposals that make sense to them. In addition, they build knowledge collectively by interacting with their peers. The teacher, at this moment, is no longer in front of the class, but besides groups of students, or following one of the experiences that he considers most challenging, for example. It is worth mentioning that, when organizing these experiences with large classes, some students may not identify the conceptual need for a given experience; what happens is that they must be designed not only with a conceptual focus, but involving procedural and attitudinal objectives.
Currently, when analyzing the general competencies of the educational standards, we see the wide range of opportunities for enriching the experiences designed by educators. Including general competencies and skills from different subjects are challenging when thinking about personalization but offer many possibilities to make the approach effective and relevant for students. Thus, considering personalization in the planning of innovative classes by enabling protagonism and the development of autonomy in educational institutions is a possibility to achieve the transforming potential of educational practices and further strengthen the adoption of active methodologies in education. And, what about remote teaching experiences? How to transform these learning experiences into moments that consider personalization?
Let us think about how blended learning shows a way to personalization in remote teaching experiences.
In this model, students conduct studies on all curriculum components in the online format and attend school for mandatory face-to-face sessions with a teacher, one or more times a week. In these meetings with the teacher, discussions about aspects that deserve further study, clarification of doubts, or follow-up to assist in the next steps, such as personalized mentoring, are deepened.
The difference between what was offered by most of our schools at this time of remote classes and the proposal of the enhanced virtual is the possibility of personalizing the learning. In other words, online proposals through videos to explain concepts, texts for reading from different angles of each concept, allow the unfolding so that students get deeper into the aspects that individually generate greater engagement. Expanding the instruments for data collection, then, becomes essential, mainly to enable this personalized monitoring.
In a more restrictive scenario, this model would work with schedules of teachers dedicated to smaller groups of students, who would meet, respecting all health guidelines, for the sharing of essential learning, those that were selected as essential to be worked on this school year. In a less restrictive scenario, this model would work with the group of students who would meet to carry out sharing strategies in larger groups, such as debates or problem solving that apply the previously studied learning in individual format. In this model, we see an association with the blended learning named flipped classroom. For this model to make sense as personalization of learning, data collection is essential, and face-to-face meetings are supported by this information..
À La Carte model
In the à la carte model, according to the definition of the authors (Horn and Staker, 2015), learning discipline is done completely in the online model and, according to the authors, it is more efficient in high school, in elective courses. In a more restrictive scenario, specifically for high school, elective courses could completely migrate to the online format, allowing tutored monitoring by teachers, with tutoring taking place in the online format, in videoconferences. Assessments would also take place in this format. In a less restrictive scenario, some of the previously selected subjects would migrate in an online format, closely monitored by the teachers, in videoconferences for discussion and further study, but with the delivery of content in the online format. The assessments could be carried out, by group, in face-to-face meetings.
In the different scenarios I presented in this text, it is important to reflect on the role of online in lesson plans. More than considering that face-to-face and online classes will be lectures, it is relevant to establish the function of each moment. The online presents an excellent space for lectures, when in the format of recorded classes, video classes. The recorded lessons (with the attention of not being dated with comments like it’s cold today, for example), can become a repository of explanations about concepts and can be reused in the recovery of the gaps that, eventually, some students will present. The synchronous, when online, or face-to-face should not be a space for the lectures, but for contact with the others, students and teacher, with the exchange between people, with light for issues as relevant as empathy, argumentation, critical thinking. Receiving content should not be the focus of this moment, but the possibility of solving problems and putting into action the learning that was built in a previous exhibition gives more meaning to what we call blended learning, which is more than the union of brick-and-mortar and online learning, but it is the possibility of personalizing learning. The personalization of learning is conceived as a set of pedagogical and didactic strategies aimed at promoting and reinforcing the meaning of school learning for students. Perhaps, this is our moment to think about how to do it, resuming the discussion that innovation will be increasingly methodological, and not technological.