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What Does ‘Personalized Learning’ Look Like? Video Series Aims to Go Beyond Hype

An education blog whose authors believe there’s too much hype around “personalized learning” technology has posted a series of video case studies about the trend, hoping to help get beyond overheated rhetoric.

The result is an unusual look at five colleges trying high-tech classroom experiments and wrestling with how new teaching methods change the role of students and teachers.

The videos were produced by the education-technology blog e-Literate, with the support of a $350,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The case studies, divided into short segments covering different topics, together resemble a MOOC. That’s no accident, says Michael Feldstein, founder of the blog and a host of the videos, who hopes that some teaching-with-technology centers will use the videos in their professional-development workshops.

He wants videos to provide more nuance than can be found in several recent popular books about the future of education. “It’s just hard to convey a visceral sense of what’s going on in the day-to-day educational lives of teachers and students with the written word,” he said in a post about the videos.

Most projects featured in the videos are also supported by the Gates Foundation, but in an interview, Mr. Feldstein said the foundation had given him and the other host, Phil Hill, editorial independence. “We told them that if we decide that this personalized-learning software doesn’t work, that’s what we’re going to publish,” he said. “We look at what’s working and what’s not.” In addition to their blog, Mr. Feldstein and Mr. Hill run an education-consulting firm called MindWires Consulting.

The blog began releasing the segments in April, adding new videos as they were finished. All of the videos — with a total running time of three and a half hours — are expected to be posted by the end of June.

Mr. Feldstein said he doesn’t even like the term “personalized learning,” which he believes is defined differently by education-technology companies than it is by professors. When asked what he would call the trend, he came up with a phrase that is unlikely to become a buzzword: “technology-assisted differentiated instruction.”

“You have students with a wide range of needs,” he elaborated. “One way or another, with or without technology, you need to be able to help the advanced students at least as much as you reach the ones in the middle.”

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