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Learning at its Best

Two tales of personalization and technology

Personalization and technology can be read as a dream or a nightmare — it all depends on who is telling the story.

If Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee are perpetrating the plot then personalization is about using technology for union busting, test score analytics and the marketization of our children’s minds. In this story, the poor get a computer, while the rich get a computer and a teacher. Technology is a trojan horse that carries an army of economists and shadow industries who have been stalking public education for a very long time. In this story, technology and personalization isn’t about learning — it’s about money.

If Sir Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn, Linda Darling-Hammond or Diane Ravitch are the narrators, then personalization is about student excitement, creativity, intrinsic motivation, curiosity and citizenship. In this story, even when supplying children with their own computer becomes cheaper than providing them with a teacher, we have the courage to give all kids both. Ultimately, personalization isn’t about technology — it’s about learning.

Personalization and technology can be about collaborating to discover our passions but it can also be about competing over profits. Some versions of (hyper) personalization can be about pilotless flying, surgeonless surgery and teacherless teaching — this version of hyper-personalization is less about how a learner uses technology and more about how the technology uses the learner. Communications expert Marshall McLuhan told us this in 1964 when he said, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Seymour Papert, an expert on children and computing, may have summarized the two stories of personalization via technology with this:

I am no Pollyanna about technology. The record of how society took up earlier technologies is frighteningly bad. We first made automobiles in the hundreds of millions and then worried about how to mend the damage done by deforming our cities, polluting our atmosphere and changing the lives of our teenage children. Why should we as a society do better this time?

1 don’t know whether digital technology can hurt the atmosphere. But I do know that it could make a dramatic difference for the better or for the worse in the lives of children, and that there is no guarantee that it will be for the good. Quite the contrary, if one goes by what one sees happening today, it is almost guaranteed that the technology will be used mindlessly or for the profit of corporations rather than for the benefit of children.

In which story of personalization and technology are you a character?

About joebower

I believe students should experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information.


4 thoughts on “Two tales of personalization and technology

  1. What happens when two great creative and critical thinkers get together to talk about the future of schooling/society – Freire & Papert

    Posted by mixmaxmin (@mixmaxmin) | December 19, 2011, 11:22 pm
  2. The video of Freire and Papert is amazing. Thank you.

    Posted by Kirsten | December 20, 2011, 8:28 am
  3. I think the distinction between “big vision” education deform and real reform usually comes down to $$ vs. learning. Almost anything can be ruined by making it about $$ and can be made useful when it’s about learning. If the former, the only thing that will matter is the bottom line. If the latter, things will be evaluated both pragmatically and individually: if it’s useful for a given person’s learning, fabulous. If not, s/he will move on. But if profit is the focus, then all that matters is if you can sell it, not whether it actually works or helps anyone.

    Posted by Michael Paul Goldenberg | December 20, 2011, 12:18 pm
  4. What do we think of these statements?

    It’s the people, not the technology, that matter. It’s the use, not the design. It’s the interpretation, not the intent.

    I don’t know if any of those ideas leave me on one side or the other, but if we remain mindful of the tensions Joe describes, draw strength from communities like this one, and observe how the kids use technology to learn, then I think we have a shot fostering a generation of thinkers who don’t give themselves over to computational consumerism, but instead make informed purchases about what to buy, why to buy it, and what positive thing to make from any technology.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 20, 2011, 7:03 pm

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