Success in the 21st century at work and in life requires collaboration, collective intelligence, and smart teams using smart tools. In our fast-changing world, a world that faces many serious crises, being able to cope with challenge, to persist past failure, to learn in new ways, and to adapt one’s skills and style to other team members are all 21st-century skills. Yet new technologies and the Internet allow us to enter our own customized echo chambers and identity niches where we can comfort ourselves with what we are and do not have to confront ourselves with what we can be and, indeed, must become as fellow citizens in a diverse and complex global world. This is particularly dangerous for students.
Will challenges this issue of customized learning paradigms, or what I referred to in an earlier post as Differentiation 2.0, if these paradigms only cater to an individual’s strengths. To paraphrase Alvin Toffler, we will fail to learn, unlearn, and relearn without confronting failure.
In the comments section, however, several posts refute Will’s conclusion as overly simplistic. One Ryan Folmer notes:
This isn’t how I see personalized learning. I see tailoring it to the student by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to fully use those strengths, but also work on helping the weaknesses. Each student will be different in these measures and how we address them with each student is how you personalize.
Another commenter, Tom Hoffman, cautions:
I think this jumps ahead of the game a bit. We don’t know that these adaptive learning systems really work.
There’s truth in what all three educators have to say above. If our learning is so customized that we play to an individual’s strengths but rarely provide opportunities to our students to fail or take risks in their learning, then we are failing them by not developing well-rounded students and preparing them for a world that’s gone viral.