Personalized Learning: Future Opportunities

by Katherine Prince

Ten years ago, personalized learning was not yet a movement. Some schools and educators were pursuing it; others were planning it. But the idea that education could make use of the deep personalization that was beginning to take hold in other sectors was still novel.

Today, personalized learning is far more established, with schools and districts across the United States finding ways to implement it. Depending on circumstances or point of view, it does not always seem desirable or attainable. Those of us who promote high-quality and student-centered personalized learning would like to see it happen more often and in more places. But the possibility that learning could revolve around students, reflecting their readiness, strengths, needs and interests, is becoming a reality.

Having come this far over the past ten years, where might personalized learning be in the year 2028?

KnowledgeWorks’ forthcoming ten-year forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, seeks to chart potential future courses for education by identifying key drivers of change shaping learning and suggesting what they could mean – as well as how education stakeholders might begin to respond today. As I will explore in greater depth during a keynote presentation and breakout session at the National Convening on Personalized Learning, five drivers of change have the potential to impact learning over the next decade:

  • Artificial intelligence and algorithms are automating many aspects of our lives.
  • Engaged citizens and civic organizations are seeking to rebalance power.
  • People have increasing access to tools and insights that are reshaping our brains in intended and unintended ways.
  • Outdated and misaligned systems and metrics of success are contributing to chronic health issues, including rising rates of mental illness among children.
  • Communities are working to remake themselves in the face of deep transitions.

Given these trajectories of change, as well as the broader era shift that we are all navigating as we grapple with the impacts of exponential advances in digital technologies, opportunities to personalize learning are likely to increase.

As education stakeholders revisit the purpose of education for a changing world and reexamine today’s narratives and metrics of success, personalized learning advocates could contribute to – and benefit from – a widespread push to reorient education around human development. Such a shift could change not just how educators design and support learning experiences but also how systems measure success. As part of that, they could use education design principles that focus on supporting learners’ healthy development and on meeting core needs such as secure attachment, social belonging, and meaningful purpose. They could also advocate for standards and assessments that could expand to reflect a broader range of human development than is common today, incorporating formative assessments that reflect a holistic view.

As our expanding knowledge of the brain informs a growing array of tools and practices for augmenting its performance, insight into how to support healthy brain development will spread. In addition, there will likely be more ways of effectively addressing factors such as brain-based medical conditions and trauma in and beyond educational settings. Cognitive fitness protocols could help educators support learners’ neurological health and cognitive performance. Or specialists could work with other educators to integrate insights from neuroscience, learning science and cognitive technologies into learning experiences. By making use of such approaches, efforts to personalize learning could become more responsive to individual learners’ needs and circumstances and could come to integrate new insights from research more rapidly.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are automating many aspects of our lives. There will be increasing opportunity to make effective use of AI and machine learning to support educational decision-making, curriculum management, and assessment. Tools using these technologies could help educators provide learners with personalized resources and supports and could help educators access personalized professional development. For example, machine learning open educational resource communities could engage educators in developing and sharing machine learning algorithms that address needs they identify. Another possibility is that AI-driven digital partners could help educators carry out their jobs and align learning experiences with learners’ readiness, strengths, needs and interests.

As communities work to remake themselves in the face of deep transitions, educators in and out of school will have opportunities to design place-based learning experiences that make use of community resources to enrich learning and provide learners with authentic ways of helping to remake their geographies. Such educational placemaking endeavors could organize learning differently than most schools do today. For example, cohorts of students could engage in nested learning within community organizations, pursuing learning that suits them while developing social learning networks comprised of community members, mentors, peers and trusted adults. Personalized learning practitioners and advocates could create many authentic ways of locating learning in place.

If personalized learning practitioners and advocates took concerted action to pursue such opportunities, the movement could gain considerable traction over the next ten years, improving outcomes for students and positioning them for successful lifelong learning. By 2028, personalized learning could be more than a movement: it could be a baseline embedded in many contexts, in many ways.

To hear more about KnowledgeWorks’ latest perspective on the future of learning, join me at the National Convening on Personalized Learning. You can also visit KnowledgeWorks’ website to watch videos previewing the drivers of change from Navigating the Future of Learning and sign up to be among the first to see the forecast when it comes out in late November.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Katherine PrinceKatherine Prince leads KnowledgeWorks’ exploration of the future of learning. As Senior Director, Strategic Foresight, she speaks and writes about the trends shaping education over the next decade and helps education stakeholders strategize about how to become active agents of change in shaping the future. Before joining KnowledgeWorks in 2006, Katherine supported large-scale changes in working practice at Britain’s Open University and helped U.S. federal agencies and other clients increase service quality by incorporating a customer perspective into their organizational planning. Katherine holds a BA in English from Ohio Wesleyan University; an MA in English from the University of Iowa; and an MBA from The Open University. She earned a certificate in Foresight from the University of Houston and is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists.