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Personalized Learning: What We Can Learn from the One-Room Schoolhouse

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Director of The Tutoring School
oneroom

Imagine this: a one-room schoolhouse, filled with students of all ages.  I’m sure you probably have a picture in your mind that is similar to a scene out of “Little House on the Prairie”—and a sense that this is an antiquated and out-dated mode of education.  The concept of one teacher working with a variety of students who are at different levels doesn’t tie in with our image of a modern/technological society.

However, personalized learning does just that.  As any teacher can tell you, a classroom of 15 different students is a classroom with 15 different levels and specific learning needs.  Technology is helping teachers (and students) meet the individual needs of a particular course while keeping the benefits of a group setting.  Flipped classrooms, online problem sets, and search engines help solve some of the problems hindering true personalized education in traditional schools.  But does this mean that the computer does the teaching?  Absolutely not!  This access to technology allows a teacher to address a student’s level and learning needs individually in the classroom and to keep the progress of the class moving forward.

Nevertheless, personalized education still requires something technology can’t replace—time and space.  It’s like a question on the SAT: if a classroom has a 45-minute class period and 35 students in it, how much time does the teacher have to check in with each student and help explain the rough spots?  Clearly, a smaller class size is necessary in order to be able to devote time to address the individual needs of each student in that class.

Oh, and that “Little House on the Prairie” vision I mentioned?  It’s still in existence today in many rural areas, including my home state of Montana.  The students educated in these blended environments were just as successful academically as those who followed a more “traditional” path.  There might be something to say for “old-fashioned” methods, after all!