Personalized learning is a term that’s been bandied about in education for decades—and for good reason. We personalize everything these days, from the emails we get to the type of milk we want in our lattes. It was only a matter of time before it made its way into university and college classrooms.
In his book, The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose argues that a generalized approach to curriculum and teaching fails to meet the needs of students. People learn and develop in unique ways, he writes, but the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to education ignores our differences. At a time when blended, online and hybrid learning environments are becoming the norm, it only makes sense for higher education institutions to create more personalized learning options.
What Is Personalized Learning?
Personalized learning is a method of teaching that enables educators to support the unique needs of students using bespoke learning pathways. Although personalized learning is meant to meet the needs of the individual learner, it does not require educators to develop customized learning plans for each student. Rather, it offers students a sense of autonomy, empowering them to take an active role in how they learn. Some examples of personalized learning include hybrid/hyflex learning arrangements, asynchronous instruction and self-paced online coursework.
Why Does Higher Education Need Personalized Learning?
We’re currently in a stage where both postsecondary students and faculty are struggling. Enrollment at universities and colleges fell by nearly 1 million students since the fall of 2019. Degree completion rates aren’t much better: 45% of undergraduate students don’t earn a degree within six years of starting a college program. Meanwhile, ongoing cuts to state funding mean rising tuition costs for students, many of whom don’t know how to apply or feel comfortable applying for financial aid.
If implemented and used effectively, personalized learning could help solve many of these challenges.
3 Ways Personalized Learning Can Benefit Higher Education
1. Understand the Changing Student Demographic
According to a report from the Gates Foundation, 45% of students who attended four-year colleges did so while working more than 20 hours per week. Many students at higher education institutions come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds with families and responsibilities that can hamper their educational progress. But the majority of curriculum at higher education institutions was designed with the mindset that students had nothing but school to focus on.
Faculty and administrators can use personalized learning to identify and meet the unique needs of a shifting student demographic. A responsive learning management system (LMS) ensures that students who may not have consistent access to a computer can still consume the course material. Asynchronous learning arrangements and self-paced courses mean students who have commitments outside of school can continue learning when it’s convenient for them.
2. Identify At-Risk Students Using Data
Using data to support students is nothing new, but it goes beyond looking at academic grades. Many universities and colleges use robust customer relationship management systems (CRMs) that track students’ journeys from admissions right up to graduation—if they get to that stage. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, almost half of undergraduates in the United States failed to graduate with a degree within six years of beginning a college or university program. Additionally, out of 18 developed countries, U.S. college completion rates are among the lowest.
Where a CRM can really come in handy is in identifying more vulnerable students through a mix of behavior-based actions and quantitative achievements. When this is done early enough, the hope is that degree completion rates will increase.
3. Choose the Right Tech Tools
When deployed correctly, the right technology can help level the educational playing field. But it’s important to recognize the needs of your student population first. To our first point, if your students don’t have regular access to a computer, choosing a mobile-friendly learning management system should be high on your list of priorities. A reliable internet connection is another factor in learner success. If students can access materials offline, they won’t be as dependent on spotty Wi-Fi to complete their courses.
Additionally, many LMSs allow discussion and collaboration. Students can interact with their peers and teachers in real time, even if they aren’t always physically in the same place. These types of social connections can have positive cascading effects on a student’s emotional well-being.
It’s no longer enough to throw a set of lecture slides online and let students sift through them. The customizations and integrations available in LMSs allow any educator to create robust, interactive learning experiences that students are truly engaged with.
The Future of Higher Ed Is Personalized
In an increasingly personalized world, it’s no surprise that students are expecting tailor-made solutions to their individual educational needs. With the range of technological options available, it’s easier than ever to design curriculum to suit different learning styles. When done thoughtfully, personalized learning is a win-win for both students and faculty.
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