The idea of fitting a service – both its content and its mode of presentation – to the needs of those being educated underpins the notion of personalisation. Those who support personalisation of education call for a greater sensitivity to learners’ individual needs, for reasons of ethics as well as efficiency. Personalisation entails treating learners as persons, both because this is their right and because the evidence suggests that they learn best under such conditions (as supported by some of the neuroscience results discussed Brain Research and Learning over the Life Cycle published in Personalising Education).
Misunderstandings persist as to the nature of personalised education. Personalising education is not a return to child-centred theories of schooling; it is not about separating pupils to learn on their own; it is not the abandonment of a national curriculum; and it is not a license to let pupils coast at their own preferred pace of learning. As David Miliband has stressed in Choice and Voice in Personalised Learning published in Personalising Education while he was the UK’s Minister for Schools, personalisation aims to raise standards by focusing teaching and learning on the aptitudes and interests of pupils.
What - and who - must change for successful personalisation?
Depending on the level of personalisation sought, change can be either selective or wholesale. It is useful to distinguish between at least three different forms that personalisation could adopt. The first, bespoke service, requires highly individuated services, tailored to the needs of individual clients. The material and logistical demands of such a radical change to the system are, in the short-term at least, untenable. Such a shift would require wholesale changes in attitude, as well as radical redistribution of public resources. Thus, a second and more modest model suggests itself. This second option, mass customisation, allows for a degree of choice over how to mix and blend standardised components and modules to create a learning programme more suited to each student’s individual learning goals. Such a reform requires, foremost, an increased flexibility in learning programs, which requires schools – and in particular teachers – to modify some rigid traditional practices.
As stated above, however, the ultimate aim of personalisation goes beyond the mere presentation of pre-designed options among which a choice is made. Rather, a genuine participation in the design of options from the user of the service is sought. The third, mass personalisation, adopts this as its central aim, promoting a co-creation of value between user and producer in a non-transactional framework. Standard accounts of value restrict its creation to transactions. In education, this corresponds to the model of the learner paying the teacher to ‘download’ information. Personalisation of public services implies co-creation of value from collaboration between users and producers: a participatory rather than transactional process.
The three different levels of personalisation each come with their own, more or less demanding requirements. However, there are some constants across the three, particularly the groups of whom change is required. Change must come from both the top and the bottom. Although structural change will almost certainly be required, this will have limited impact unless it is accompanied by an attitudinal change among teachers and administrators. A prerequisite of such attitudinal change is a policy environment that encourages and guides it.
Related topics:The Demand Dimension: Concluding Issues and Directions