Review of Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning

William R. Penuel, Raymond Johnson, National Education Policy Center, Jan 25, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This is a review of a report titled Continued Progress: Promising Evidence on Personalized Learning (57 page PDF) which summarizes finding from three projects based on the idea of personalized learning. According to the report, the findings are generally positive, but they warn against saying the one thing caused the other; the experimental design was too weak and the data mixed. The review published by the National Education Policy Center (12 page PDF)echoes these cautions and also questions the methodology on a variety of grounds, the most serious of which is probably the predominance of charter schools in the research projects, a process that introduces "bias associated with being a school selected as part of a competitive process to be part of a program." Fair enough, but I think there are some positive takeaways. It's hard to balance personalized learning with a requirement of standardized outcomes, and the fact that these projects show no evidence of being disasters suggests that personalizing learning will, at a minimum, do no harm. I think that is promising evidence, even if the authors of the review do not.

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