I love Pandora (and Spotify, and iTunes radio). All of them respond to my listening history to introduce me to new music by new artists while rolling in familiar songs that I still love. They do this by converging hard data and personal taste. It’s really fun and the commercial use is obvious (people who bought this, also bought that. . .) but the potential for serious outcomes geared to the greater good is enormous.
Darwin spoke of survival of the fittest with his theory of evolution built around one’s ability to adapt. Today we talk about grit and resilience as major differentiators in student success. We know that one’s ability to land on one’s feet in times of change separates those that thrive from the rest of the pack. We also know that teaching these fuzzy attributes is difficult and demands coaching, modelling, trial and error, the opportunity to fail, trust, and faith – outcomes we don’t usually find on a course syllabus.
We also know that different people learn in different ways at different speeds – and that those modalities are also fuzzy and inconsistent depending on a multitude of factors. Yet, for the most part, our schools are still structured around rigid schedules with lock-step learning routines often shaped by textbooks instead of people. Differentiated teaching is tough. One teacher responding to all the variables associated with course content, school culture, and classroom behavior can be overwhelming on a good day. One of the best things to come out of the digital disruption is adaptive e-Learning platforms.
Dreambox Learning, one of the stars of this innovative space, has wonderful information about the benefits of adaptive learning. Other key players include: Knewton (in partnership with Pearson, Cambridge University Press, and Macmillan), Smart Sparrow, Desire2Learn, and John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Money is an object, particularly for struggling school systems. But these models are very scalable and still very new. I hope with time and a more substantial track record, we can get these tools in every teacher’s hand so that every student can realize their super power to learn. It’s about more than opportunity, it’s about survival of the fittest.