The future of individualized instruction

paradigm-shift.gif ShrinkWrapped blog had an interesting post the other day about Paradigm Shifts, particularly focusing on how new researchers have “synthesized a new science of learning that is already reshaping how we think about learning and creating opportunities to re-imagine the classroom for the 21st century.”

Currently, most schools in this country offer education in the form of “collectivized” learning where all students are expected to learn at the pace of the slowest student in the class. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but the politics between teachers, school administrators, and state governments have created a very challenging and difficult situation for students and teachers who want to push beyond the expected norms. Creativity in providing individualized instruction has often been punished, or at the very least, discouraged by school administrators.

What is really interesting about the article ShrinkWrapped links to is that it is scientific confirmation in what we here in EdTech have believed for some time–the more ways you can provide the information to students, the more chances they have for being successful students. As the article puts it, “if we can create the right environment for a child, magic happens.”

The science fiction story ShrinkWrapped refers to is Henry Kuttner’s “Mimsy were the Borogroves“, an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem. The story tells how two young children are presented with some radical new toys that teach them to think and act in ways that are very different than their parents can even comprehend. In fact, the younger of the two children (the daughter), who can barely speak, unravels the mysteries of the toys much faster than the older child. The older child (the son) has to translate what the daughter is doing for his father’s sake, but this father is simply too old to wrap his mind around the radical new concepts. Eventually, the children learn enough about their new toys to construct a portal through time and space to the origin of the toys (the far distant future). The father is left in the here and now (actually 1942, the timeframe of the story). 

Shrink’s point is that childrens’ minds are far more plastic and malleable than we ever suspected. Modern research is starting to confirm that children, and even adolescents to a lesser extent, can learn far more than what we are currently teaching them in the classroom. It is very well established that younger minds are able to learn multiple languages at a very young age, especially if children are forced to be bilingual or trilingual through their circumstances. When I lived overseas, I knew a fair number of people who spoke three or four languages fluently.

In the future, it is not inconceivable that everyone, regardless of income or personal circumstances, can receive a highly individualized instruction suited to their own unique learning styles. However, there are still some societal and institutional paradigm shifts that need to be made before this can become a reality. I’ve personally seen how difficult it can be for someone to understand a new way of teaching. However, I’ve also seen the “A HA!” moment that happens when the lightbulb finally clicks on. Unfortunately, no one ever seems to have the authority to provide the funding needed to make the proposed changes in education and teaching a reality.

NOTE: ShrinkWrapped is a professional psychoanalyst and has a number of interesting posts on a wide variety of topics. Also look at the comments for the Paradigm Shifts post for some interesting discussion