NEPC: Personalized Learning Heavy on Rhetoric, Light on Results


A new policy brief recently released by the National Education Policy Center suggests that digital technology has not influenced education for the better.

The report’s author, Noel Enyedy, an associate professor of education and information studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, said the lack of results from technology has many origins.  Enyedy suggests that the chief reason for this is that there are no clear suggestions pertaining to what “Personalized Instruction” actually means.  

He goes on to say that those who believe in it use the term to cover a broad range of teaching that typically holds a heavy use of online and other digital resources.

“Computers are now commonplace in the classroom, but teaching practices often look similar, as do learning outcomes,” Enyedy writes in his policy brief, Personalized Instruction: New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning. The brief is published today by the NEPC, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

“After more than 30 years, Personalized Instruction is still producing incremental change,” Enyedy writes. Large-scale studies, including meta-analyses, of Personalized Instruction programs “show mixed results ranging from modest impacts to no impact.”

In his report, New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning, Enyedy suggests that the benefits of personalized instruction are mainly found within blended instruction programs that use traditional classroom methods in addition to using computers, sometimes including online methods.  Enyedy believes that this type of learning could actually cost more than traditional methods.

He also includes a number of suggestions for policymakers and researchers who are considering making changes to a more digital media-reliant schooling method.  He says that policymakers should invest on technology in incremental steps with a skeptical eye toward any promotion of computerized learning.

He says more research is needed in a K-12 setting, as much of the existing evidence comes from undergraduate students and professionals, “where developmental and motivational factors differ.”  He continued to suggest that the developers of educational technologies work with researchers when testing the software and hardware tools:

“We cannot trust market forces alone to sort out which systems are effective.”

In addition, he says that school administrators should make sure that there is “substantial professional development for teachers” whenever they look to invest in technology for educational purposes.

Enyedy finishes the report by stating that people must remember that there are several other methods for using computers in classroom settings other than Personalized Instruction.  He states that those who are involved in education should be open to considering alternative approaches when incorporating technology into classroom use.

“It may be that we need to turn to new ways of conceptualizing the role of technology in the classroom—conceptualizations that do not assume the computer will provide direct instruction to students, but instead will serve to create new opportunities for both learning and teaching,” Enyedy concludes.