Using Technology to Personalize Learning
While technology helps to increase engagement and interaction in online courses, it also provides instructors the means for leaving behind a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and moving towards methods that personalize student learning.
Technology is the reason (and the vehicle) for how Dr. Baker, nursing professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, tailors her instruction to meet the individual needs of her students.
Letting Students Choose Their Learning Goals
For her Informatics course, Dr. Baker requires her students fill out a “Learning Plan Contract” at the beginning of the course. This contract includes students rating their
personal knowledge level of each of the course outcomes, stating their goals for the course, how they plan to achieve those goals, and how they will prove that they achieved them. Then, the students are given four options for their high-stakes course assignments. Based on their Learning Plan Contract, goals for the course, and learning styles and preferences, they choose two out of the four assignment options to complete for the course. Dr. Baker also includes computer skill competency information for each assignment so students can choose an assignment that requires them to develop skills they don’t have. Her assignment options are:
- Webcast Development & Presentation – Computer Skill Competency: Presentation/Graphics
- Yellow Pages CD & Presentation – Computer Skill Competency: File Management & Webpage Production
- Web Page Development & Presentation – Computer Skill Competency: Web Page Production, Graphics, Communications
- Second Life Continuing Education Event – Computer Skill Competency: Presentation/Planning/Communications
With options like these, students are set up for success and empowered to excel in projects that best suit their learning style. Students with a desire to improve their skills might select option #3 as one of their choices. Those who enjoy group projects can excel with option #4. Students who wish to strengthen their file management skills might select option #2. Finally, those who select option #1 often choose this because they have created presentations before but may not have created a standalone asynchronous webcast.
Increasing Student Motivation
This approach also gives students the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge that could help them professionally. For example, if a student has been wanting to learn more about developing web pages, they could challenge themselves by choosing option #3. In doing this, the student, then, has an intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to accomplish their goals. Online learning (and learning in general) doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. Several assignments can achieve the same goal of meeting course outcomes. We dare say that if, like Dr. Baker, you use a variety of technology tools to personalize learning, your students might just exceed the goal of meeting course outcomes.
Share Your Experiences
How have you personalized learning for your students? If you haven’t, how do you think you could apply this approach to your course? Share with us in the comments section below.