Aug 03, 2017
A look at the new research linking personalized learning to improved math skills and the opportunity it creates for math tutoring.
Personalized learning has shown promising benefits as an educational approach, and recent developments in technology and teaching tools have allowed for it to be more frequently put into practice. So, with more data to analyze now, what kind of outcomes are being seen? The RAND Corporation has put out new research on how this teaching style contributes to students’ academic success. Their results show that students engaged in personalized learning exhibit significant improvement in math. Great news! But is personalized learning an important pursuit for everyone and in all academic areas? RAND’s findings may not be what you quite expect. Continue on for a detailed look at their report and how it relates to tutoring.
It has proven to be a difficult task for the education community to come up with a single, specific definition of what personalized learning is. Reasons for the complexity around accurately defining this teaching style stems from the diverse ways in which it is implemented. It’s unique to each learner, incorporating various approaches and targeting independent goals, all based on the student’s specific needs and the resources available. Nevertheless, it remains an important mission to come up with a shared definition in order to allow educators to create replicable systems to implement its practice.
So what is personalized learning? It’s based on optimizing the teaching approach to the student’s learning style. The RAND Corporation describes personalized learning as “instruction that is focused on meeting students' individual learning needs while incorporating their interests and preferences.” Digital Promise emphasizes the importance of personalized learning as a way to “effectively support the growing diversity of the population of students by understanding how individual learners learn best and actively engage, motivate, and inspire them.” Though there isn’t a standard definition of personalized learning, most experts agree that the uniquely contributing student factors include a mix of goals, pacing, content, scheduling, interests, tools, technology and resources, among others.
To determine their findings, The RAND Corporation collected data from 40 schools within the Next Generation Learning Challenges’ Breakthrough School Models program. This program includes schools that place emphasis on personalized learning. In their report, they found that these schools exhibited a higher incidence of “time for one-on-one tailored support for learning; using up-to-date information on student progress to personalize instruction and group students; students tracking their own progress; competency-based practices; and flexible use of staff, space, and time” on average than other schools not included in this program.
One of the most important findings from the study was related to student success in mathematics. They determined that personalized learning contributed to a gain of approximately three percentile points in the subject regardless of previous skill level. While reading skills showed a similar trend, they could not rule the relationship as statistically significant. What was also made clear through the findings was the diverse implementation of personalized learning methods, further confirming that additional research needs to be prioritized.
Given the significant impact on math advancement exhibited in the research, math tutors have a unique opportunity to boost this progress based on the nature of how tutoring works. As a one-on-one educator, personalized learning is likely (and should be) already a significant part of your daily repertoire. By simply getting to know your students on an individual level and paying close attention to their strengths, weaknesses, and interests, you can make a significant impact on their academic success. Here are some ways to take advantage of this correlation to drive additional growth in math:
Always strive for customization within your sessions. Personalized learning depends heavily on unique approaches to education based on a specific student. Even if you have materials or lesson plans that have worked with previous clients, spend time making adjustments to cater to individuals in different and accommodating ways.
One of the major factors in personalized learning is flexibility, so you should aim to practice this through sessions. If possible, offer sessions during nontraditional hours and allow for extra time if needed. Allow students to work with you virtually via video chat or phone call check-ins, which provides flexibility in both location and timing.
Try incorporating technology into your sessions. Most experts consider technology tools to be integral in effective personalized learning as it encourages self-pacing, is flexible, and often employs methods to track progress. Furthermore, many students are engaged and interested in technology and coupling learning with amusing activities is a great way to get students more involved in their own education.
Instead of providing an all-encompassing, end-of-engagement progress assessment, deliver ongoing feedback and progress reports. The consistent evaluation will lend itself well to identifying strengths and weaknesses so you can adjust your course as needed.
Perhaps most importantly, alter your mission with the goal of teaching the child as a person, not simply teaching content to a student. Spend time getting to know your clients beyond academic factors. As their tutor, it’s important to work with them on a social and emotional level, bringing more customization to your sessions.
Now that the new results are in, it seems to be clear that more research should be done on personalized learning. The improvement in math scores is a promising indicator that there are benefits to this style of teaching. Thanks to these findings, math tutors have an opportunity to strengthen student skills even further by applying personalized learning to sessions. By teaching students through this method, math tutors can have a huge impact on student success.
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