Getting Smart

How Digital Learning is Changing the World

Chapter 3, Customization: Building the Right Playlist for Each Student

The focus of this chapter is that the ideal education model is becoming "whatever works best for that student." Technology is integral to this customization, as we are more connected than ever and learning may take place outside of a school building at any time of day.


Vander Ark believes that differentiated instruction, while a "noble" plan, must draw on instructional technology to reach its full potential. He provides several examples of schools/programs that are customizing learning through technology. Performance learning centers, or PLCs, which are created by the nonprofit group Communities in Schools, target overaged and undercredited students to encourage them to graduate. Students select online courses and work at their own pace with the support of on-site teachers. A report by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning highlights the features of competency-based learning, including advancing with mastery and meaningful assessment.


Web 2.0 tools allow teachers and learners to customize experiences. Vander Ark mentions Mangahigh, Edmodo, and others. He emphasizes that the point of customization "is to boost engagement, persistence, achievement, and completion rates."


Other benefits of customized learning through online tools include instant feedback, learner profiles, recommendations for other helpful tools. Privacy is a concern with learner profiles, but technology exists to manage privacy settings.


Vander Ark also believes that smart recommendation engines will be a "killer app," assisting with curriculum development and lesson planning for differentiated instruction. He predicts that in five years "most learning platforms will feature a smart recommendation engine...that will build recommended learning experiences for students." Online guidance systems will also play an important role in helping students with postsecondary progress and decisions.


The chapter ends with an explanation of how merit badges, like the Scouts use, incorporate several great pedagogical techniques: choice, expert mentors, and demonstration of knowledge in both required and self-directed ways.