By Maria H. Anderson
"Mass education is adequate, as long as students are highly motivated to learn and get ahead of their peers. In developing countries, a student who is successful in education will be able to climb the ladder of personal economic prosperity faster than those who are not successful. But in industrialized countries, where prosperity is the norm, an education does not necessarily translate into a significantly higher standard of living. In these countries, there is no longer a large economic incentive to learn, so the motivation to learn must become intrinsic. As we redesign en masse education, we must address learners’ intrinsic motivations, which means that education must circle back to being personal again.
"The vision of a modern education built around personalized learning is not new, but it is definitely tantalizing. Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age (Spectra, 1995) shares a vision of personalized learning in the future via an interactive book that possesses a conversational interface (CI) and “pseudo-intelligence,” a kind of artificial intelligence (AI) that is inferior to human intelligence. It’s likely that we’ll see decent conversational interfaces within the next decade, and certainly applications like Google Voice are moving us much closer to this reality. AI that is capable of directing the learning needs of a human will take much longer, developing in the next 20–50 years, but we can’t wait that long for the technology to catch up with education. The need for personalized learning exists in the here and now. So how does one bridge this vision of the future with the realities of the present?
"...A system for personalized learning will not grow from inside formal education. Education is like a field that’s been overplanted with only small patches of fertile soil. Too many stakeholders (parents, unions, administration, faculty, etc.) compete to promote various ideas about how to change, acting like weeds or plagues that choke off plant growth. The fresh and fertile soil of the open Web can foster the quick growth of a personalized learning system. Then, like a good fertilizer, it can be used to replenish the soil of formal education and help us to reach that “Holy Grail” of education: personalized learning for all."