Education Talks: Personalised learning brings students to the fore

Hard on the heels of the TeachUP project, we sought to learn more about personalised learning and its applications. In this joint interview, Karen Triquet (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and António Manuel Silva (Ministry of Education, Portugal) discuss how personalised learning differs from personalisation, and what teachers can do to accommodate it.

What is the difference between “personalisation” and “personalised learning”?

Karen: I believe that personalised learning is really about the individual within the specific context, their learning needs, their interests... while personalisation is more attached to the technological aspects of it and how technology can be scaffolded and respond to different learner needs. But maybe you can add something on personalised learning.

António: I’m completely in line with your ideas, but I think personalised learning is focused on the development of the talent, of the individuality. Personalised learning is about focusing on the integration of each student. Because sometimes we think of personalised learning as an isolation of the students, but this is not the point – the point is, how can we integrate the students and better understand their skills? An effective methodology in personalised learning is peer learning, so it’s very important to all the students to be integrated in groups and collaborate by themselves in so many different works – PBL, for example.

How should you assess personalised learning?

Karen: If you’re gonna give this choice, if you’re gonna build this ecosystem, you should assess to reflect – which is a big change. But you should assess what you’re giving them the choice for, and what is the vision that you actually want to build, which is personalised learning, which forces you to change the way you are assessing. So, a lot more formative assessments throughout the learning process that are not just for the teacher, but really fed back, given back to the student. How should the students reflect on their thinking? How can they learn better?

What is emerging from the TeachUP project on personalised learning?

António: The rationale of this experimentation is how to improve retention rates in online teachers’ training. This is very important. And in this sense we are studying tutoring models and learning analytics tools are being developed to meet the specific needs of each training. So, this is a kind of personalisation and personalised learning, and this experimentation is being developed in a very controlled environment to produce sustainability and outputs and results through the development of four MOOCS. One of them is exactly about personalised learning.

Karen: Because we know that MOOCs and massive open online courses demand a lot of self-responsibility on the learner and TeachUP is trying, indeed, through its experimental approach, to kind of bridge how to integrate the learner – then, through the different types of data, capture how to understand that learner, how to respond to that learner...  But not just relying on personalised or personalisation, which would be the EdTech dimension, but bringing in this participatory voice.

What first steps towards personalised learning can teachers take?

Karen: I think it comes in many different forms that you can do as a teacher, so providing choice opportunities for your students. You know what standards and kind of achievements you want them to accomplish, but where can you build in choice? Where can you give students ownership? Then, on the other hand, it's also about just understanding who your students are. What do they care about? And then, I also think as a teacher, it’s about role modelling. So, developing yourself, developing how you are actually learning in personalised ways, gives you a much bigger strategy and toolbox to approach what you can enable for your students. But maybe you see something else...

António: I think we should think not as a closed environment, not as closed ecosystem. Personalised learning brings the community to all the learning processes. So, I think we need to better understand where is our context, we need to understand the context of the students, and then create a plan to integrate all of these tasks, all of these areas.