The Battle for “Personalized Learning”


So here we go again. Another terminology war. First there was the battle for open. Then the battle for MOOCs. Somewhere in there was the battle for edupunk.

I stay out of terminology wars because, even though they are often about very real and important issues, the emphasis on finding a single correct definition tends to distract rather than focus the conversation.

It’s a different with “personalized learning” because there is no fight over its meaning right now. Rather, it seems to have no specific meaning at all. Sometimes it is used interchangeably with “adaptive learning.” But not always. And not exactly. More often it means, roughly, “robot tutor in the sky.” Shorter version: “WHEEEEEE!!!” Or maybe, “Wingardium leviosa!”


Phil and I have decided to claim this prime piece of linguistic real estate. We are asserting squatters’ rights.

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A Retrospective on Implementing Common Course Management Systems

At e-Literate we mostly avoid blogging about our consulting work through MindWires Consulting, but we have an opportunity with our work for California’s Online Education Initiative (OEI) to share information with the higher education community on a topic of growing importance. The OEI is California Community College System’s approach to help individual colleges collaborate with their online courses and programs, including a OEI Course Exchange to be launched this Fall in pilot mode that will “allow students to register for online courses across participating colleges without requiring students to complete separate application and matriculation processes”.

Last year we at MindWires helped OEI select a Common Course Management System (yes, they use the CMS language instead of LMS) by providing market analysis and facilitating the group decision-making process. This year they asked us to review similar efforts at other consortia in the US and Canada. The point of a CCMS is not the technology platform itself but rather what the common e-learning infrastructure could allow a consortium to do – address issues such as course redesign, professional development, student support, etc. Even though the OEI was based on selecting a common system from the beginning and has experienced significant adoption already, there is still a great deal of value in learning from others that have gone before. We are releasing the result of this work with the report – “A Retrospective on Implementing Course Management Systems: Motivations, Benefits, Drawbacks and Recommendations“. Continue reading

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Fall 2014 IPEDS Data: Interactive table ranking DE programs by enrollment

Last week I shared a static view of the US institutions with the 30 highest enrollments of students taking at least one online (distance ed, or DE) course. But we can do better than that, thanks to some help from Justin Menard at LISTedTECH and his Tableau guidance.

The following interactive chart allows you to see the full rankings based on undergraduate, graduate and combined enrollments. And it has two views – one for students taking at least one online course and one for exclusive online students. Note the following:

Tableau hints

  • (1) shows how you can change views by selecting the appropriate tab.
  • (2) shows how you can sort on any of the three measures (hover over the column header).
  • (3) shows the sector for each institution by the institution name.

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No Filters: My ASU/GSV Conference Panel on Personalized Learning

ASU’s Lou Pugliese was kind enough to invite me to participate on a panel discussion on “Next-Generation Digital Platforms,” which was really about a soup of adaptive learning, CBE, and other stuff that the industry likes to lump under the heading “personalized learning” these days. One of the reasons the panel was interesting was that we had some smart people on the stage who were often talking past each other a little bit because the industry wants to talk about the things that it can do something about—features and algorithms and product design—rather than the really hard and important parts that it has little influence over—teaching practices and culture and other messy human stuff. I did see a number of signs at the conference (and on the panel) that ed tech businesses and investors are slowly getting smarter about understanding their respective roles and opportunities. But this particular topic threw the panel right into the briar patch. It’s hard to understand a problem space when you’re focusing on the wrong problems. I mean no disrespect to the panelists or to Lou; this is just a tough nut to crack.

I admit, I have few filters under the best of circumstances and none left at all by the second afternoon of an ASU/GSV conference. I was probably a little disruptive, but I prefer to think of it as disruptive innovation.

Here’s the video of the panel:

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Fall 2014 IPEDS Data: Top 30 largest online enrollments per institution

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provide the most official data on colleges and universities in the United States. This is the third year of data.

Let’s look at the top 30 online programs for Fall 2014 (in terms of total number of students taking at least one online course). Some notes on the data source:

  • I have combined the categories ‘students exclusively taking distance education courses’ and ‘students taking some but not all distance education courses’ to obtain the ‘at least one online course’ category;
  • Each sector is listed by column;
  • IPEDS tracks data based on the accredited body, which can differ for systems – I manually combined most for-profit systems into one institution entity as well as Arizona State University[1];
  • See this post for Fall 2013 Top 30 data and see this post for Fall 2014 profile by sector and state.

Fall 2014 Top 30 Largest Online Enrollments Per Institution Continue reading

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