Posted by: crudbasher | March 9, 2012

How Personalized Learning Will Take Off


(cc) Breakfast for Dinner

I try to write something a bit more substantial on Fridays. Sometimes, if I know what I want to write about I look for stories during the week that lead up to it. I did that this week so let’s look at what I wrote so far and why.

On Monday I wrote The Hidden Technology In Classrooms. What I was pointing out is that a smartphone can do so many tasks that previously required a lot of expensive equipment. Sometimes we have more than we think sitting in plain sight

On Tuesday I wrote Introducing Solve For X – A Conference Like TED . Specifically I wrote about Neal Stephenson, a scifi writer who, in the video, commented on a lack of progress and asked why we don’t do big things that change the world

On Wednesday I wrote The Rules Of Disruptive Innovation . I wrote this to clarify in my own mind some of the conditions that surround disruptive innovations. One of them I really felt was important was it is usually discounted and ignored, until the very last moment…

On Thursday I wrote Apple iPad Event: The Education Picture. This was my thoughts on the Apple event. I talked about how the iPad 2 dropped in price after only a year but you might have noticed that I spent the most time talking about Siri. I also made the point that Siri is a single massive system. It is a learning system that will adapt and get better the more it learns. Therefore it was going to develop capabilities in the future that we can only guess at…

So what does all this add up to?

If you look at the school system in the Internet era you see the Lifeboat Irony. This is somebody dying of thirst in a lifeboat surrounded by (salt) water. Education is thirsting for education resources and yet the Internet is filled with more information than has ever been available at any time in history. It’s just not in lesson form. So how do we fix that? How do we take the Internet and put it into a form that somebody can learn from?

The first option is to have a teacher do it. That is their primary skill really; to take information and make a lesson out of it. The problem is you have to tailor the lesson to a particular student or student type. Often times the lesson is geared to a “theoretical” student. One size does not fit all when you are talking about a personalized approach to education. If each student should have a personalized lesson, it’s impractical to have a teacher do it. This process needs to be automated. I think that’s exactly what is coming.

Imagine this scenario: A child has their little kiddie smartphone. It might take the shape of a stuffed animal that talks to them. The child sees something interesting and then asks their toy about it. The toy will have the capability to go onto the Internet, dig up relevant information about the topic and then craft a lesson to teach it. Keep in mind, the toy will have a lot of experiential data about what the child likes to do already. If they like to draw, the lesson might incorporate a drawing component. The toy might have a micro projector built in that allow it to project a simple animation on the wall. Or, the child might wear kiddie Augmented Reality glasses and the toy will simulate the lesson superimposed in the child’s bedroom. Later in the day, the toy will be programmed to casually come back to the topic to see how much retention there has been. It will be able to reference a list of topics that the parents have set as important to know. The toy will always be looking for opportunities to work these topics into the day. Keep in mind the toy doesn’t get tired and will keep teaching as long as the child wants.

The child will outgrow the toy of course, but all their smart toys will actually be just one system. As the child gets older, the learning system will suggest activities in the local community to help supplement the learning. Google, Amazon and Netflix already know how to do this. For example, the system might connect the child with a local artist to help nurture their drawing skills. It will also know about other kids in the neighborhood who share interests and suggest play dates to their parents. Smart toys will eventually give way to a smart phone but it’s still the same software system. There will be a continuity in learning that can never be achieved with the current school system of many teachers each year. Learning will be personalized, student centered, 24/7 and lifelong.

The system I just described needs the following pieces to work:

  • A sense that the one-size-fits-all public school system is not working.
  • A school system that keeps doing things exactly the same way.
  • A sense that the Internet can provide alternatives.
  • Low cost connected devices that are aware of the world around them.
  • A software system that can take questions and build a lesson out of them.

I would imagine these lessons would then be passed around to other systems to adapt for their own students.

For personalized learning to really take off, computers will have to create the lessons. The really mind blowing part is once you have the software that can take anything on the Internet and turn it into a lesson, the whole world can have it the very next day.

I will go out on limb and say that this will happen in less than 10 years. One day in the not too distant future a child will look at a drawing and say “I want to know how to do that” and their toy will reply “Ok, I’ll teach you how”.



  1. Wow, I am not sure to be afraid or excited, image of toys taking control of a child learning… a little horror movie ish? 😉
    Seriously though, as you said during the week, Siri does the basics here but lacks the pedagogical out that you refer too. I can see this happening where toys become learners themselves.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more about the future of education and more personalized individual learning with the use of technology and personalized web based instruction. Sal Khan has a lot to say about this on one of his many interviews archived on his Khan Academy website. Here’s a few that support your blog post:

    Khan 2060 Education Predictions–education-predictions

    Khan Academy Exercise Video Overview

    Khan explaining how his exercise videos work—insights-into-students–progress

  3. […] Andrew, also known as @crudbasher, has a fantastic blog that always makes me feel like I am getting a sneak peak into the future.  Education Stormfront is always on the cutting edge of introducing me to the technology that is going be transformational in the educational realm.  This goes beyond classroom resources and opens up a whole world of “what if” and “what next”.  This blog will make you dream of possibilities and stay ready for what the future holds.  I love that there are other geeks out there who get a kick out of this stuff as much as I do!  This post was especially exciting since I am working on a big project that will make it possible to personalize learning:  How Personalized Learning Will Take Off. […]

  4. […] A computer able to observe and learn would make a great lifelong tutor.  See my post last week called How Personalized Learning Will Take Off. […]

  5. […] How Personalized Learning Will Take Off […]

  6. […] My little niece Nora visited a few weeks ago. She’s 2. Her Daddy has an iPad so Nora knew what it was. She therefore took my iPad, and flipped the icons until she saw the red Netflix icon. She launched Netflix and then asked me for “Monkey”. (it was amazingly cute by the way) That meant she wanted to watch Curious George. Imagine if the system had voice recognition? She would have been able to get what she wanted by herself. This will be a key feature to my idea of Smart Toys. (see How Personalized Learning Will Take Off) […]

  7. […] How Personalized Learning Will Take Off […]

  8. […] depressing, let me cheer you up a bit. This ability to understand the world around them will enable smart toys. These are a new class of device I see coming which will be companions to small children. They will […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: