In October 2007, Professor Michael Wesch from Kansas State University published the video below titled A Vision of Students Today.

Last week at ISTE, in discussing the future of learning, Justin Reich wrote Battling over the Meaning of “Personalization”.

“Personalization” has won the hearts of every camp in education. Whether you are a market-based reformer, an open education advocate, or a 21st century Dewey partisan, everyone agrees that learning should be personalized: learning experiences should be tailored to each individual student. We also agree that personalization is made feasible by new technologies.

Since we agree on these broad principles, we should expect fierce battles over the specifics, over “what we mean by personalization.”

For some, personalization means using technology to individually diagnose student competencies on standardized tests and then apply algorithms to adaptively deliver appropriately challenging content to each student to help them perform better on those tests. It means taking the factory model of education and giving every kid an assembly line.

For some, personalization means that technology opens a world of information and expertise to every student, empowers students as explorers and creators, and lets them follow their interests and passions in diverse directions. It means blowing up the factory, and building something else (maybe creative agencies).

Personalization is a new front in a century old war, between Thorndike and Dewey, between instructionism and constructivism. Thorndike was an advocate of an education science driven by objective measurement; Dewey was an advocate of making schools look like life, even if the results were harder to measure.

Those of us who are sympathetic to the Dewey-inspired vision need to think carefully about Ellen Lagemann’s admonition that the history of education in the 20th century can be explained as a battle between Thorndike and Dewey, in which Dewey lost.

We have to think carefully about whether a new technology, which creates a new battlefield, actually changes the dynamics that result in the triumph of Thorndike’s vision.

To win the battle over personalization, we have to keep asking why we keep losing.

In many ways, the battle over personalization, the creation of effective pedagogy, and the successful integration of technology to create dynamic learning environments has been raging since long before Professor Wesch’s video or maybe even the start of the Dewey and Thorndike debate.

This week, two of Justin’s students will be posting for him on EdTechResearcher. In the post,
Higher Education Is a Lifestyle, MIT undergraduate student Sebastian Begg presented his vision of effective technology integration in light of the recent announcement of EdX – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard’s digital learning platform.

An MIT education, and any higher education for that matter, consists of much more than watching online lectures. It consists of much more than working through problem-sets. It consists of much more than taking an exam and receiving a grade stamped at the top of your paper. It consists of much more than sitting at a computer for several hours each day, completing course modules and sifting through electronic textbooks and course documents. A higher education is built on the foundation of social interactions: student to faculty, student to student, faculty to faculty. The richness of a higher education is a product of the intellectual encounters that occur within academic communities. As fantastically as a textbook might be written, an online lecture might be presented, or an assessment might be structured, it is the thought-provoking and creativity-sparking conversations among students and faculty that make higher education so unique. Living and breathing within a community of thousands of other bright minds is the defining characteristic of colleges and universities across the world: higher education is a lifestyle that cannot be earned with a certificate of completion.

I urge my peers to recognize that the value of the EdX initiative lies in supplementing the education of the intellectually curious. EdX not only champions the relentless work of professors and educators at MIT, but it also encourages higher education across the world, an initiative that is most certainly well-intentioned. EdX is an amazing gift to those who crave knowledge, to those who share the same determination as that of the very students comprising the MIT and Harvard undergraduate population.

In the future, I envision EdX to evolve into a networking tool for academics across the world, a tool for intellectuals yearning for more of those “thought-provoking and creativity-sparking” interactions to use in forming their own academic communities. I can only hope for the community of intellectually inclined individuals across the world to expand with the implementation of EdX.

Personalization, Massive Open Online Courses, mobile technologies, Flipped Classrooms… At EdTechTeacher, we often ask the essential question: what does change look like? With regard to the creation of successful learning environments, the answer may be a moving target.