The Histories of Personalized Learning

Audrey Watters, Hack Education, Jun 12, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

As Audrey Watters points out, these days the term 'personalized learning' can mean almost anything you want it to mean, and in a sense the ideas it encompasses go back to Rousseau, Aristotle, Dewey, and various others. But there's a more modern sense we generally comprehend, and the history of this idea, she says, is a relatively recent invention, replacing 'individualization' in the late 1990s. This concept, the "tailoring a service or product to accommodate specific individuals, sometimes tied to groups or segments of individuals," is a salve, a product, and an ideology, she says. "Individualization through teaching machines is therefore a therapeutic and an ideological intervention, one that’s supposed to act as a salve in a system of mass education. And this has been the project of education technology throughout the twentieth century." And while it's sold as "meeting the needs of students", in the hands of Silicon Valley ideology, it also becomes a method of "placing all responsibility on the individual". She asks, "can we maintain a shared responsibility for one another when institutions are dismantled and disrupted?"
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