TITLE: An Argument Against Personalizing Instruction AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 26, 2014 3:27 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Most people seem to believe that personalizing instruction to each individual is an unalloyed good. However, Benjamin Riley argues that two common axioms of individualized instruction "run afoul of our current understanding of cognition": He says that both run the risk of giving the learner too much freedom. Path. Knowledge is cumulative, and students need a suitable context in which to interpret and assimilate new information. If they try to learn things in the wrong order, they may not be able to make sense of the new information. They are also more likely to become frustrated, which impedes learning further. Pace. Thinking is hard, and learning isn't always fun. Most people have a natural tendency to shy away from difficult or unpleasant tasks, and as a result can slow our overall rate of learning when we have to choose what to work on next. (Dan Meyer offers a second reason to doubt the pace axiom: a lot of the fun and insight that comes from learning happens when we learn synchronously with a group.) Of course, we could take Riley's arguments to their extremes and eliminate any consideration of the individual from our instructional plans. That would be a mistake. For example, each student comes into the classroom with a particular level of understanding and a particular body of background knowledge. When we take this background into account in a reasonable way, then we should be able to maximize each student's learning potential. When we don't, we unnecessarily limit their learning. However, on balance, I agree with Riley's concerns. Some of my university students benefit greatly when given control over their own learning. Most, though, struggle making choices about what to think about next and why. They also tend not to give themselves enough credit for how much they can learn if only they put in the time and energy studying and practicing. They need help with both path and pace. I've been teaching long enough now to respect the value that comes with experience as a teacher. By no means am I a perfect teacher, but after teaching a course for a few times I begin to see ways in which I can order topics and pace the coverage in ways that help more students succeed in the course. I don't think I appreciated this when I was a student. The best teachers I ever had were the ones who had this experience and used it well. I'll stick with my usual approach of trying to design a curriculum intentionally with regard to bother order and timing, while at the same time trying to take my students' current knowledge into account as we move through the course. -----