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On Individualized Learning

March 5, 2009

I recently became aware of the Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment as part of a project at work on open education. After scanning the list of articles published (which appear to be all available online in PDF format!) I found one titled “Individualizing Learning Using Intelligent Technology and Universally Designed Curriculum”.

The author, Michael Abell, seems to be operating more from an undergrad or even K-12 perspective in some of his statements – compared with an undergrad/graduate design school where I work – so the paper may not be directly applicable to my project. But, he does raise some interesting questions.

One of the first topics the paper covers is the notion of student learning styles. He seems to be arguing that one of the hallmarks of a successful individualized learning system is that it would be able to configure its contents to adjust to the learning styles of any given student. Given what I remember about the different types of intelligence and the variety of ways in which a student might prefer to learn, that seems like it might be a recipe for creating about seven different versions of the same curriculum; each tailored to a specific type of learning, but each differing somewhat significantly from the others.

That seems, to put things mildly, like it would be a time-intensive process. Noble, certainly – useful almost probably – but time consuming. Given that one of the promises of open education (at least as I’ve heard it from some quarters) is that it would free up instructors to be able to pursue more research, I wonder whether those two things are mutually exclusive.

Still, I’m intrigued. Another part of my job is to train students in how they can safely operate equipment like laser cutters, CNC mills, and other digital fabrication apparatus. In that type of instruction, the “bad thing” students need to avoid is not a low mark but personal injury or damage to property.

In that sort of context, the effort required to provide seven different variations on a core curriculum is much easier to justify.

Perhaps it might be time to either schedule a consultation with some local learning science experts, or to brush up on those different types of learning so I can start radically revising our fab lab training presentations.

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