Personalized Learning at Scale

A military example from a US Army vet.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kevin M.A. Nguyen

CREDIT US Army careers and jobs“Personalized learning is…” How many times have you read that lately? Though the concept has been around for decades, personalized learning has seen a resurgence in recent years, and educators argue for many different methods to achieve this: adaptive computer programs, differentiated instruction—the list goes on and on.

While everyone has a different opinion on what personalized learning should look like, in the most general sense, personalized learning is the practice of teaching to the needs of the individual rather than the group.

Like a classroom, a platoon uses scaffolding through lessons and plans that build on each other, as well as multimodal exercises through different training types like discussion, simulations, and live training.

A popular myth is that the perfect personalized learning situation is a teacher-learner ratio of 1-to-1 — I argue that this ratio isn’t always ideal, and can think of many scenarios where 1-to-1 learning is ineffective or even detrimental.

More than that, using a 1-to-1 ratio just isn’t realistic in most situations. Effective personalized learning is possible at the group level, and I believe many classrooms could benefit from learning how the military conducts its training at scale.

As an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Army, I believe the challenges between training military forces and teaching students in classrooms are largely similar: the populations are diverse and the stakes are high.

Like many American classrooms, a typical platoon— a standard military unit of roughly 20-45 soldiers—will have ‘students’ from drastically different educational, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds. Add to that age, experience, and rank differences and you’ve got quite a smorgasbord of people. Like students working toward academic achievement and standardized tests, soldiers need to improve their skills in order to execute missions that are at times life-threatening and could have lasting effects on an international scale.

So how is training conducted? With a lot of scaffolding and multi-modal training. An example scenario: a platoon receives a mission to transport supplies from Point A to Point B. First, the platoon leader briefs the entire platoon about the mission. After some discussion, the soldiers “back brief” or explain the mission to their leader in their own words. This method can be adapted for the classroom through clear instruction and daily agendas from the teacher and think-pair-shares by the students.

Next, the platoon performs a rock drill, in which soldiers put rocks and stick figures in the sand to rehearse an upcoming scenario. In the classroom, students can learn concepts better through similar pieces of realia, such as dioramas, manipulatives, or other 3D models. The platoon conducts several rehearsals after the rock drill, where they physically run around and use vehicles. This entire process can last anywhere from minutes to several days depending on the situation, but in between the steps there are breakout sessions where the soldiers help each other prep and practice. There are even remedial trainings for more fundamental pieces of the mission, like weapons training and first aid. My point: when something as important as a mission comes along, the military does its best to maximize learning opportunities. Like a classroom, a platoon uses scaffolding through lessons and plans that build on each other, as well as multimodal exercises through different training types like discussion, simulations, and live training.

Of course, training and education are not the same thing. But there’s a saying in the military: “No plan survives first contact”—in other words, all plans go out the window once bullets start flying. Even so, military units are still successful in carrying out their missions. Through different kinds of training, soldiers develop a conceptual understanding of what needs to be done and can adapt to dynamic situations, thus allowing them to achieve their end goal. I believe that is an education.

I posit that educators can take some cues from how the military approaches learning. Members of the military don’t view what they’re doing as personalized or differentiated learning; however, all soldiers go through different modes of training with the idea that everyone will understand the concept at some point in the process. This is not the most efficient method, but it arguably is personalized learning at scale. Without any one-on-one training, a soldier is exposed to the way that he learns best through different modes of teaching. Soldiers exercise empathy and learn how to effectively employ different teaching methods so that they can help their buddies and train subordinates when the time comes. Just imagine: students helping each other learn at a personal level. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

Kevin M.A. Nguyen is product manager at, a leading online destination for educators of students Pre-K through fifth grade.

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Cool Tool | Mobile-first Education Apps from HLT

CREDIT HLT CorpThere’s long been a disconnect between digital learning and mobile learning. Many educational resources such as quizzes and study guides made early leaps to digital. But truly mobile versions lagged. Now HLT has closed that gap by offering mobile-first education apps for college preparation exams, career certification tests and classroom courses—and that mobile-first approach is paying off. According to their estimates, over 90 percent of graduating nursing and dental students use one of HLT’s apps. HLT also has mobile testing prep products for graduate schools including the daunting MCAT – the medical school aptitude assessment test. For those not quite ready for med school, HLT mobile tools can also help one get into undergrad with preparation and practice guides for key tests such as the ACT or into the military with resources to help students tackle the ASVAB. Soon, HLT will unveil new study series for professional certifications such as real estate licensing based on the popular “For Dummies” series. Putting study resources on mobile phones can turn just about anywhere into a study session, boosting the time and repetition many students need to succeed. Learn more.

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Less Burden, More Organized

Using online forms for a more productive classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chad Reid

CREDIT JotForm THEME StoreOnline forms might not be the first thing that pops into your head as being a helpful tool for classroom management, but it should be. Using a DIY online form-building tool, you can collect homework, important feedback, parent signatures, and any other important information you need to collect en masse. The great news is that online forms are incredibly easy to create in 2016. You don’t need to know how to code to build one, you can just use a form-building software to create one.

Most online form services are completely free and remove the administrative tedium of being a teacher.

Most online form services are completely free and remove the administrative tedium of being a teacher. Below are a few of the popular ways teachers are taking advantage of online forms to create a better, hassle-free classroom!

Self-grading quizzes

Not only can you set up an online form to be a self-grading quiz, but you’ll get the results instantly sent to your form account. The graded information can also be integrated with the spreadsheet that you’re already using to record grades, making the process incredibly streamlined and simple.

Assignment submission

Written assignments shouldn’t hinge on dozens of functioning printers. It’s easier than ever to accept attached documents to online forms. That way your students can turn in their work by given deadlines from the comfort of their own home before even coming to school if they want. It’s also a great way to keep submitted assignments organized, and lets you access assignments from home or at school.

Permission forms

There’s something inherently flawed with the process of giving a permission slip to a student, hoping that same student collects a signature from a busy parent, and then promptly returns the slip in a timely manner. Online forms allow you to cut out the middle man kid. Send permission forms with electronic signature fields directly to parents to sign and submit instantly. No more wasted paper, no more placing the burden on students to retrieve permission.

Extracurricular signup forms

The easier you make it to sign up for an extracurricular sport, club, or committee, the more students will actually participate. That’s why a simple-to-fill-out, friendly online form can come in handy. Make it accessible straight from the school’s website so students can easily find it during their leisure time. You can even send a reminder email before deadlines with the attached form so students can fill it out on the spot, even from their cellphones.

Self-assessment forms

Some of the most interesting data a teacher can collect is students’ perceived strengths and weaknesses in a given subject. The real fun comes from working with this information once you have it. Look for consistent trends to shape your curriculum and maximize how much your students learn throughout the course.

Group project feedback forms

It’s not always easy for students to give honest feedback about their peers when it comes to group projects. Online forms can make the process a little less daunting for them. They can fill out the forms on their own time, in the library or at home. You could even make the feedback surveys anonymous, which could really encourage honest evaluation of their peers.

Student surveys

Polling students generate fascinating debates in the classroom, whether it’s about scientific theory, politics in social studies, or even the meaning of a novelist’s ambiguous text. Most online form building tools give users the option to turn the data they collect into presentable visual reports, which are perfect to show the class after you poll them in a student survey.

Meeting schedule forms

Some form builders give you the option to send a form with an appointment-scheduler widget that lets the form responder know what appointment slots are available and which have been filled. This is a very handy tool for scheduling both parent/teacher conferences and student meetings. No back and forth required; just an online form.

The best part is that all of the forms you’ll be using above send responses to the same account, making all the data you need accessible in the same place. It keeps you organized without even trying! And the ease by which you can create reports and integrate responses with spreadsheets makes it incredibly easy to share responses with colleagues.

Chad Reid is the director of communications for JotForm, an online form builder that’s become a fixture in schools all over the world. Are you using online forms in your classroom? Let Chad know how through his site.



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The Academic Cloud

Do you know who’s protecting your cloud application data?

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeff Erramouspe

CREDIT SpanningCloud technology has forever changed how we work. Academic institutions have especially benefitted from the cloud, because it allows them to take advantage of economies of scale that are difficult to achieve with on-premises systems. Cloud technology, and especially software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, have also improved mobility and collaboration, as well as access to enterprise-grade solutions, without having to develop or maintain software in-house.

Google Apps and Office 365 have proved to be especially useful for educators, given their exceedingly affordable (and sometimes free) access to email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and cloud storage. These applications also boost student motivation and performance, as cloud-based products appeal to students’ affinity for

As of February 2016, more than 40 million students, teachers, and administrators reported using Google Apps for Education, including 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools and the majority of the top 100 universities in the US.

technology and meet their need for more social learning. By allowing teachers and students to access and edit content in real time, Google Apps and Office 365 support more interactive and collaborative learning environments. The numbers don’t lie: as of February 2016, more than 40 million students, teachers, and administrators reported using Google Apps for Education, including 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools and the majority of the top 100 universities in the US.

Cloud Application Risk Factors

While Google Apps and Office 365 serve as valuable tools for academic institutions to grow faster and collaborate more effectively, they also present some risks that aren’t always obvious to the user. Given the highly collaborative nature of SaaS-based solutions, users face the risk of data loss as a result of sync issues as well as accidental or intentional deletions. This could include anything from a professor accidentally deleting a grade spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, to a student inadvertently overwriting work from a team project stored in Drive, to a scheduled Google Apps data sync corrupting an entire year of lesson plan content.

Here’s another risk factor educators need to consider: applications like Google Apps and Office 365 don’t guarantee full restoration of lost data if an issue occurs on the user’s end. It could be a highly costly assumption that all cloud-based data is automatically backed up and restored. In reality, it’s often the responsibility of an organization’s IT department to fill in the data protection gaps by selecting a backup and recovery solution themselves.

Best Practices for Preventing Data Loss 

In order to ensure data availability and recover quickly in the event of a data loss event, academic institutions should seek out third-party SaaS backup and recovery solutions. These solutions should be both powerful enough to restore lost data and easy enough for end users (faculty and students) to use without needing to engage the IT department. It’s also crucial to understand that data protection is about more than just backing up cloud-based data.

Organizations need recovery plans in place to ensure data can be completely restored back to its original state. This includes the protection of metadata, which contains critical information such as sharing settings, labels, tags and ownerships. Without this, recoveries aren’t complete, because while your content may be restored, you’ll still require the folder location of that document or any tags associated with it, or which users have editing or viewing privileges.

It’s also critical to work with backup and recovery solution providers that can prevent issues before they occur by offering transparency into which users are experiencing issues and which files are unable to be backed up. This allows necessary adjustments to be made before it’s too late.

Perhaps the most crucial component of SaaS data protection, however, is the ability to seamlessly transfer ownership and restore data in shared documents even after an employee or student has left or been terminated. This capability eases the inevitable transition of documents and ownership when key employees (or students) change positions or leave an organization.

When data loss occurs, time and resources are wasted working with IT to get back to work and recover lost files. That’s time and resources few academic institutions can afford. Read the fine print for SaaS solutions like Google Apps and Office 365, and recognize that you are responsible for keeping your own data safe in the cloud. Leverage third-party backup and recovery solution providers for automated, daily data backups, and ensure your data can be swiftly accessed and recovered in any data loss scenario. Because once you have peace of mind about your cloud data, you’ll be able to focus on what matters most – preparing students for their future.

Jeff Erramouspe is Vice President and General Manager at Spanning.

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Purposeful Selections

Three factors to consider on your back-to-school edtech hunt.

GUEST COLUMN | by Marie Mérouze

CREDIT marboticBecoming enamored with new tech gadgets is all too easy in today’s society, and the education industry is not immune to these fleeting tech infatuations. Whether it’s a demo at a tech conference or a raving review from another teacher, edtech products easily find their way to the top of any educator’s wishlist. But the problem with edtech’s popularity is that, oftentimes, products are purchased based on flashy looks and sounds, rather than the impact on a child’s educational growth.

In selecting edtech tools for your classroom, it is important to keep in mind what these products were created for — helping teachers and students alike in the learning process.

As the search for new lesson plans and gadgets begins, keep these three factors in mind to make sure you’re investing in the best edtech products on the market.

1. Edtech that can adapt to the student’s pace.

If you’re looking to stock up on new edtech for the upcoming school year, be sure to find products that have multiple learning levels built into the software. For example, apps that are capable of teaching not only how to recognize consonants, but also how to combine them with basic vowels are great for multiple steps on the road to literacy. If the device is only capable of teaching one skill or the other, then it won’t prove useful throughout the school year as your students grow and advance their skills.

Tech products for classroom-use must have the capability to increase or decrease in difficulty depending on the skill base of the child using the device. Technology with lessons that progress in difficulty are ideal for the classroom because not only do they allow students to improve, but they also allow other students at different skill levels to use the same product during the same lesson. Products that support continued and varied use have a greater value to educators because they can be accessed throughout the year, instead of just at the beginning or end.

2. Devices that positively contribute to the classroom.

Edtech products with constant background sounds, flashing lights and other distracting features can be disruptive to the educational environment. An integral part of any edtech program search is to make sure that the product won’t distract you or your students. Find devices that will fuse into your existing classroom culture. A sound edtech investment will be one that enables a new platform for children to learn, while serving as a teaching tool that doesn’t distract or undermine the goals of a focused classroom.

Another important aspect to consider is the ability to adjust audio-visible displays. It is vital that educators can customize their edtech for every learning environment that they encounter. If the students prefer a quieter classroom, the best edtech products should be able to accommodate that need.

3. Tools that promote physical manipulation for learning.

It has been proven that children have an easier time understanding fundamental theories when they physically interact with their learning tools. Interactive products are no stranger to the edtech market; many companies have created devices that do not sacrifice hands-on learning and its benefits. When looking for classroom tools, find edtech devices that require physical manipulation, instead of buying products that are completely digital. Your students need an aspect of physical movement with their learning tools to help them visualize and comprehend key concepts. For example, interactive technology is especially useful for elementary-level math teachers. Grounding mathematical concepts in physical manipulation will help students better understand what the math and numbers are truly representing.

As the edtech market continues to expand, it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through all of the educational products at your disposal. In selecting edtech tools for your classroom, it is important to keep in mind what these products were created for — helping teachers and students alike in the learning process. Don’t forget to utilize these three shopping tips as a helpful guide, and be sure to put in the appropriate amount of research to guarantee that you are making the most informed edtech investment.

Marie Mérouze is the Founder and CEO of Marbotic, a company of tech-lovers and education experts that created the ultimate learning experience mixing traditional wooden toys and touchscreen technology.

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