Can New Technologies Make Learning More Individualized?

By IGI Global on Dec 12, 2011
In any classroom, students are inevitability learning at different paces and therefore needing different amounts of reinforcement and explanation. In a large class of students, a teacher can only lecture at one speed, meaning that some students will stay right with the teacher while others will require less explanation, leading to boredom, and still other students will need more help, leading to confusion. Good teachers are able to design effective exercises that allow them to help the students who need more assistance while allowing students needing less assistance to work ahead at their own pace, and this general model has allowed generations of students to learn math, science, history, and much more. Still, could there be a better way to teach students individually?

Technology has presented many new opportunities for the classroom and individualized learning. One new technology is Salman Khan's Khan Academy, a Web site full of lessons covering various topics on math and science as well as history, finance, test prep, and more. The lessons blend short videos hosted on YouTube with problems, and they allow students to work through lessons at an individual pace and path, even rewinding the videos and redoing the practice problems if necessary. The Khan Academy Web site also allows students to create a profile where they can track their progress and earn reward badges for their accomplishments.

Khan Academy lessons are simple, thorough, and possibly best of all, free to anyone with an Internet connection. In a recent article published in The New York Times, Somini Sengupta reported Khan's thoughts about the free lessons, quoting him as saying, "The core of our mission is to give material to people who need it. […]You could ask, ‘Why should it be free?' But why shouldn't it be free?" Free material means that homeschooling parents can utilize lessons, students needing extra help can consult videos, teachers can recommend lessons to students needing additional reinforcement, former students re-entering the world of education can brush up on skills, and much more. Still, Khan is thinking bigger.

Khan wants schools and teachers to integrate Khan Academy lessons into regular classroom lessons. When a class full of students goes through the lessons, the teacher can watch the progress of each student on his or her own laptop, and offer assistance or congratulations accordingly. Critics say that "his model is really a return to rote learning under a high-tech facade, and that it would be far better to help children puzzle through a concept than drill it into their heads," according to the same article. Supporters see these lessons as a way to do something better than sit through a lecture.

It is still too soon to tell whether or not integrating the Khan Academy lessons into the classroom can truly help students and improve their educational experience. Either way, the lessons have the potential to be helpful, and they provide a new way of thinking about integrating technology into the K-12 classroom. To learn more, read the New York Times article or visit the Khan Academy Web site.

As schools try to integrate technology into their classrooms while simultaneously trying to make learning more individualized and help students overall, IGI Global is proud to offer a variety of resources to assist educational professionals in puzzling through some of their many options. To begin browsing relevant books and journals, visit IGI Global's Technologies in K-12 Education publications or visit IGI Global's Blended & Mobile Learning publications.

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