CO (April 30, 2019) – Personalized learning programs are proliferating
in schools across the United States, fueled by philanthropic dollars,
tech industry lobbying, marketing by third-party vendors, and a policy
environment that provides little guidance and few constraints.
In Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching,
Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher M. Saldaña, of the
University of Colorado Boulder, consider how we got to this point.
Beginning with an examination of the history of personalized learning
and the key assumptions made by its proponents, they review the research
evidence and reflect on the roles and possible impacts of the digital
technologies deployed by many programs.
the authors explain, these personalized learning products will continue
to be aggressively marketed, so policymakers and educators should be
prepared to critically evaluate those products and that marketing. They
need a clear understanding of the history and evidence if they are to
craft appropriate guidelines for personalized learning initiatives.
research brief’s specific findings are alarming. It reveals
questionable educational assumptions embedded in influential programs,
self-interested advocacy by the technology industry, serious threats to
student privacy, and a general lack of research support for personalized
learning programs. Despite the many red flags, however, the pressure
persists for the adoption of personalized learning programs. States, for
example, continue to embrace policies that promote implementation of
digital instructional materials but that do little to provide for
oversight or accountability.
guided by informed policies, linking personalized learning with
proprietary software and digital platforms can put important educational
decisions in private hands and compromise the privacy of children and
their teachers. It can also distort pedagogy in ways that stifle
students’ ability to learn and grow as people and as participants in
democratic civic life. By emphasizing data collection and analysis over
other instructional considerations, digital personalized learning
programs inevitably reflect a restricted, hyper-rational approach to
curriculum and pedagogy that reduces students’ agency, narrows what they
can learn in school, and limits schools’ ability to respond effectively
to a diverse student body.
the current manifest lack of oversight and accountability, the authors
recommend that schools and policymakers pause in their efforts to
promote and implement personalized learning programs until rigorous
review, oversight, and enforcement mechanisms are established. They also
recommend that states establish an independent government entity
responsible for evaluating the pedagogical approaches, assessment, and
data collection embedded in digital personalized learning programs. This
new entity should also be responsible for implementing and enforcing
safeguards to ensure the security and privacy of student and teacher
Find Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching, by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldaña, at: