How to support personalised learning with technology

Teachers and school leaders are bombarded with products that claim to help personalise learning. But what does that actually mean and how can tools help? 

At the Empower2Learn project we’ve been working with schools, teachers and researchers to try to understand more about the potential – and pitfalls – of this much-hyped area, from AI and learning analytics platforms to subject-specific tools and complete management systems. Here’s what we’ve discovered.

Empower2Learn

Since 2019, we have been working on an Erasmus project, Empower2Learn, with partners from Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands. Covering a whole range of different aspects of differentiation and personalisation, the project has been all about empowering students and empowering learners through personalised learning. There are many ways to do this and we have been able to draw on daily contact with teachers over the period of remote, hybrid and face to face learning over the last two years.

What is personalised learning?

When we started the project nearly three years ago it immediately became apparent, both from discussions among partners and from a survey of the recent research literature, that many people mean many different things by this term.

 

For clarity and for the purposes of the project, we adopted this definition early on:

“Learning that empowers students to become active in their learning pathways and tailors their learning activities to meet their needs, abilities and interests.” 

When we started the project, the pandemic was not on our radar. We know that many teachers have used a range of tools and platforms for personalisation before the pandemic and particularly also during the period of remote learning. In the project we’ve had to make a selection of different tools to focus on, and we’ve been particularly interested in the potential of tools that use AI, which are increasingly being promoted to schools.

Tools that use AI

Great claims are being made for the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in education especially in relation to personalised learning. In a recent survey undertaken by the World Bank and IPSOS, education came out as the area where people most expect AI to have an impact on their lives. But do we really have any clear examples yet? We know that China and companies such as Squirrel AI are being used at scale but do we really know if AI can make a real difference in school level education? And why is it important to understand these developments? We argue that, despite the scarcity of in-depth research in this area, products are coming at schools and education leaders and they need to know enough to distinguish between what’s hype and what’s useful.

To help us make sense of all of the research and examples of practice we looked at to inform this project, we used a simple framework to categorise some of the tools we encountered.

 

It’s worth pointing out that these categories often overlap and that some tools can fit into more than one of them depending on how they are being used, but we found this a useful lens through which to examine personalisation more closely, and we chose tools that we felt exemplified each of them.

The first category includes anything that can be used as a standalone tool within one lesson. This might be a quiz, a brainstorming activity or a survey – essentially they are quick ways of using technology to support formative assessment.

Below that are some examples of platforms that link to a specific discipline, and that are more likely to be used over a sustained period to monitor and shape the learning pathway in that subject area. Many of these tools, like Duolingo, are adaptive to the user’s behaviour. 

However some, like Geogebra, provide the educator with an overview of pupil engagement and progress, which they can then use to personalise their subsequent teaching and interventions based on their own pedagogical knowledge.

On the top right we can see some examples of portfolio systems. These are often good examples of tools that can bring pupils themselves into the personalisation process. By recording and cataloguing their work and thought processes, pupils have the opportunity to reflect on what they might need in order to progress. Teachers, of course, can also look at their work and come to their own conclusions.

Lastly, on the bottom right are some examples of complete learning management systems which, rather than necessarily providing the content to support learning, often offer an ecosystem through which educators can develop their own methods of personalisation. These can also often be used to bring together some of the other types of tool and sometimes have them built into the platform.

Example tool – Geogebra

Geogebra is a good example of a platform linked to one subject area. Geogebra allows a teacher to choose a maths activity for their class to complete. There is a library of activities with different learning objectives which have been contributed by teachers around the world, and it’s also fairly straightforward to create your own if you can’t find one that meets your needs.

As pupils access this activity the teacher is able to watch them all complete it from the teacher dashboard. The ticks show how far each pupil has progressed and how much they answered correctly, so it can be a great way to identify which pupils are feeling particularly confident and may need further challenge, which pupils that might need further support or explanation, and whether there are any common misconceptions across the class. 

The fact that this tool is free and can support a broad range of areas of maths learning can make it a really quick and easy way of implementing some of the principles of personalisation into lessons.

Example tool – Seesaw

But while some of these tools are quick and straightforward to implement, some work better if deeper thought is applied to how they are used across a school. A good example of this is Seesaw, which featured in one of the more detailed case studies we produced for the project.

Seesaw was used by Rosendale Primary school as the platform of choice for its EEF funded research project, ReflectEd, which explored the potential of metacognitive approaches to improve learning outcomes in maths and English. The ReflectEd approach was about helping pupils develop a better understanding of how we learn. Pupils would record and reflect on pieces of work each week, identifying any particular challenges they were aware of and any misconceptions or areas they needed to work on. The approach showed promise, particularly in maths, and Seesaw was a great choice of tool for the project as it makes it easy for pupils to look at, organise and annotate their work. It also provides a lot of flexibility in terms of the format in which teachers can set challenges and pupils can submit their responses, having functionality for text, photograph, voice recording, video or a combination of the above.

The tool was very useful but this example really makes the point that although through Empower2Learn we did look at the potential of various tools to support personalisation, it is crucial for teachers to consider what they want to use the tool for in their setting and to select it on that basis, rather than fitting a particularly appealing tool into any old context.

Example tool: Duolingo

Many adults will have experienced personalisation through platforms such as Duolingo for foreign language learning. Duolingo for schools is the education version. Personalisation happens through immediate feedback and adaptive learning. It provides information for teachers about their students and instant feedback and encouragement to the learners.

During the Empower2Learn project we met with several companies using AI and machine learning. Maths and language learning appear to be subjects where AI in education has had most success in personalisation so far.

Tools for inclusion

But personalisation could also mean inclusion. In our project we also highlight Binogi, a Swedish research and innovation project which municipalities can join/licence. It’s a great example of a product developed with teachers and research. 

The tool emerged from a need to support teaching in classrooms with many newly arrived migrants and/or students that speak very little or no Swedish at all. The tool features a multitude of short, animated videos/lessons in 13 subjects; Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Swedish, Social Studies, History, Geography, Religion, English, Technology, PE and Domestic science. Complicated key concepts and subject-specific vocabulary are explained in playful and simplified ways. Audio as well as subtitles are available in seven languages; Swedish, Finnish, English, Arabic, Somali, Dari and Tigrini, with even more languages about to be introduced. Personalisation also happens through quizzes in different levels. Teachers have access to a dashboard and can monitor their students formative assessment.

What next?

On the Empower2Learn website we're developing a toolkit from the Empower2Learn project, to inspire you to personalise your teaching. This toolkit offers a collection of interesting tools you can explore and building blocks to help you to design your personalised teaching approach with or without a tool. There’s also a selection of useful literature on this subject, as well as more information on the project and the partners involved.

Along with our European Empower2Learn partners we’ll also be sharing our experiences and the results of this exciting project in an online seminar on 20 May

We’ll be looking at personalised learning, focusing on the Empower2learn toolkit that connects teachers, educators and school leaders across the EU. In the seminar you’ll hear more about personalised learning in a K-12 school context, how different digital tools can support different aspects of personalised learning and how to organise CPD to enhance personalised learning. We’ll also be sharing a walkthrough of the Empower2learn guide.

Watch our Bett talk on this topic

Book now

Summer primary school computing conference

14/06/22,
09:15
- 15:30

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

Does your school need a sustained programme in the use of digital technology to underpin your whole school aims and plans?

Our support package covers the following:

Professional learning

Teacher professional development which puts digital at the heart of teaching and learning

Pupil workshops

Engaging, practical workshops for your class, in your school, at our Clapham centre online

Creative technology projects

Engaging, immersive educational experiences with corporate and cultural partners

Consultancy & advice

Get tailored support from our expert team of teachers and technologists

Technology loans

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

14/06/22,
09:15
- 15:30
EYFS, KS1, KS2
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.

Presentations

The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

24/06/22,
09:30
- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
25/11/21,
09:30
- 14:25
KS2

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum
21/02/22,
-
KS1

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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