‘’: Debating the Coming Personalization of Higher Ed

Scottsdale, Ariz. — We’re used to personalization on the consumer Web, from book recommendations on Amazon to the news feed on Facebook.

But what will it mean for learning as colleges, too, increasingly mine data to shape the student experience? What does educational personalization look like? How finely should technologists try to parse it—down to individual learning styles? How will personalization conflict with existing regulations? And what are the risks?

Debating those questions was the focus of a panel this morning at an education innovation conference hosted by Arizona State University. Some 700 people—companies, investors, educators—are convening here over the next two days, many of them hoping to ride the surge of investment in education technology.

“We’re entering a world that is going to be so data-mined it will be unrecognizable to us in 20 years, the way our kids laugh at us for buying records,” said one panelist, Jose Ferreira, founder of the interactive-learning company Knewton. “What that means for education is profound, because education produces vastly more data than any other data industry.”

Knewton, which has partnered with Arizona State on math courses, customizes the learning experience for students by mining what it knows about their proficiency and behavior to deliver specific educational content.

But Mr. Ferreira’s vision drew some pushback from Emily Dalton Smith, program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That assumes that all the answers are captured within the platform or the existing set of content or strategies that we have now,” said Ms. Smith, who stressed the importance of interacting with people, not just tech tools.

Bror V. H. Saxberg, chief learning officer at Kaplan Inc., pointed out another key aspect of personalization: pace. “Everyone benefits from being able to speed up or slow down what they’re learning,” he said. Yet nontraditional models that aren’t based on time spent in class can conflict with government regulations.

Other topics under discussion at the conference include the future of degrees and new models of delivering education. To follow along, you can watch videos of the sessions here or join the Twitter conversation at #eisummit.

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