Personalized Learning and Digital Natives

By Dr. Amy Burkman
Program Director, M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision, American Public University System

Technology plays a vital role in the learning process for today’s K-12 students.  These digital natives have used technology since infancy to play games, watch videos, and interact with family.  There are even apps for infants and toddlers, like Baby’s Musical Hands, Monkey’s Preschool Lunchbox, and Ewe Can Count, for Apple and Android devices, Baby’s Musical Hands and Monkey Preschool Lunchbox! How can educators use this technological experience to facilitate personal learning?

One way to use technology to create personalized learning is to use some of the many apps that have been developed for tablets and phones. Whether schools are providing these tools or parents are, there are apps for developmental levels as young as two years of age. Students that have low cognitive function can learn letters, shapes, and numbers through the use of an application that is of minimal cost or free. Many of these applications are leveled and can be personalized for the learner.

Personalized learning through tablet or smartphone app use also allows for privacy for the student. If all children are working at their own level using a tablet or a phone in the classroom, there is no visible way to discern who is working at level, below level, or above level. Students can work where their needs are without worrying that others will notice, unlike having to work in a small group with the teacher or being pulled from the classroom.

Another tool that can be used for personalized learning is social networking.  With the privacy concerns surrounding tools like Facebook and the age restrictions that prohibit access to younger children, educational social networks are becoming increasingly popular. One such network is Edmodo. Edmodo provides a controlled environment where students and teachers can interact within the context of the academic institution. This tool is free and schools can create environments that are restricted to only the parents and students from their campus.

Moodle, an open source learning management system, is a free tool that allows for teachers to post information specific to courses in a distance learning environment. Teachers can post leveled readings and assignments and can allow students to access these away from the classroom. The students can complete and submit assignments and can receive additional instruction without having to go to class before or after school.  For students that have difficulty getting to school early or staying late, this resource can be vital to academic achievement. For students that struggle with a particular modality of learning or a skill, such as reading or writing, this tool can provide an alternative to traditional classroom instruction as well as leveled instruction.

Most students have access to technology through phones, tablets, or computers from an early age. Using these technological tools can provide methods for personalized learning and can allow for remediation or extension of learning without compromising classroom instruction or having students dropping out of school.

About the Author:
Amy Burkman is the director of the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership program at APUS. Prior to moving to higher education she was a school administrator, a teacher, and a school librarian. She received her Doctor of Education from Texas Christian University and she holds educator certification in Texas, where she resides with her family.

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