Research Matters / Personalization and Failing Forward

March 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 6 
Getting Personalization Right Pages 80-81

Personalized learning requires shifts—and a willingness to stumble.
Recently, I took my 8th-grade daughter to a horse barn in the name of science—or more precisely, in the name of a project to teach horses to "read." She's fascinated with horses, mucking out stalls and saddling horses at a nearby stable just to be near them and, if she's lucky, take a ride or two. She's learned that horses are smart, complicated creatures with social dynamics as complex as those in any middle school cafeteria.
To test these animals' intelligence, she has designed an experiment (with guidance from her teacher). She shows horses one board painted with a circle and another painted with a rectangle in hopes of teaching them to nuzzle the circle board to receive a treat and ignore the rectangle board (which offers no treat), thus demonstrating their ability to relate abstract symbols to concrete ideas—a form of reading. I've never seen her more invested in a school project. It's a joy to see her eagerly learning about Piaget and Skinner and delving into animal behavior studies.
Yet as we approached the horse barn and her awaiting test subjects, I wondered how effective this sort of learning is. How do we gauge its impact? Moreover, is it equitable? And scalable?