Christensen Institute report: How technology can personalize learning and build students’ relationships

By Thomas Arnett, Reprinted from the Christensen Institute

In the wake of the pandemic, most schools have doubled down on ensuring each and every student receives the support needed to thrive both mentally and academically. As part of this increased call-to-action, strategies around accelerated learning, personalized learning, and building students’ relationships have dominated headlines and conference circuits.

Yet, amidst the conversations on these hot topics, few bring up the idea of technology as a critical tool to enable and scale these supports and strategies (probably because many schools experienced setbacks with fully remote learning during the height of the pandemic). But, implemented proactively and strategically, some online tools can unlock the potential of all three goals to improve student outcomes. Here’s how.

1. Increase equitable access to high-touch tutors to accelerate learning.

Personal tutelage has been around for centuries, but it’s a form of education that hasn’t been equitably distributed. Historically, only the children of the wealthy have had access to this form of personalized instruction. Fortunately, a new edtech frontier has emerged, changing the landscape of access to tutors and mentors.

In the first-of-its-kind market map of “edtech that connects,” educators can help any student access tutors and mentors online—allowing for academic, career, and personal support regardless of geographic location or community/school resources. These disruptive technologies are supplementing and scaling the impact of great mentors and instruction so that their expertise can be available to every student, not just a few. Explore this edtech market map here:

2. Create a truly personalized education system.

An education system that can be tailored to each individual student’s learning needs is clearly an ideal worth striving for. Unfortunately, that degree of personalization has historically been too expensive to provide to each and every student. Instead, for over a century, we’ve opted for a factory-based model of education where schools achieve economies of scale by processing students in batches along a fixed schedule.

But now, for the first time in history, computer-based technologies are making personalized learning a reality not only through flexible online curricula, but through the new staffing structures, personalized supports, and classroom redesigns enabled by these technologies. In short, if personalized learning is the goal, online learning is the disruptive technology that makes the goal possible.

What’s especially exciting is that, in the wake of the pandemic, many schools have already invested in the online learning infrastructure (e.g., curriculum, hardware, and teaching mechanisms) that can make personalized learning a more tangible reality. With time on their side, educators can better integrate online curricula into their practice, enabling students to master learning in ways that work for them.

3. Connect students to authentic relationships.

As mentioned above, edtech that connects is now making access to mentors and tutors accessible and affordable for more students. My colleague Julia Freeland Fisher’s research also reveals how disruptive technologies are making it possible to scale a broader array of relationships (overcoming the seemingly fixed reservoirs of trust, bandwidth, time, and money that it takes to invest in relationships) through virtual connections.

One example is Empatico, a free tool for teachers to connect their students to classrooms around the world using video conferencing technology aimed at helping students learn together, explore their similarities and differences, and develop practical communication and leadership skills. Educators can find a range of examples on how to build and strengthen students’ relationships with the help of technology here:

To access the post about this discussion, please click here.