The Promise of Prescription in Education

Prescriptive LearningI see many requests from school districts looking to find the magic pill to make learning tailored to the student. Prescription of learning tends to be a common first step that schools are willing to make into the world of personalized learning environments. In prescriptive learning, a path through the learning content is prescribed for each learner based on a criterion-reference pre-test, and sometimes performance on a post-test. This is a common answer to remediating students who need to make up credits, exempting items they know and remediating on items where mastery has not been gained.

I have always struggled with this concept. To me, learning is a brilliant landscape of possibility, and to be prescribed a path that someone else deems correct for me is incredibly limiting. Several companies like Knewton are making great strides in prescription of learning, but I feel there is a whole dimension of the learning environment missing from that basic model.

A personalized learning environment goes deeper than knowledge of a subject. What are the learner’s interests? Does the learner struggle with reading? Are there informal learning opportunities available to the student that are not represented in the base curriculum? A great learning system takes all these things into account when recommending, not prescribing, learning to the student.

Will we get there? People have talked for years about this vision, and I think we are starting to see some great first steps in this direction from innovative companies. I’m excited to see what 2013 will bring to us to reach beyond prescription into true learning.

Post by Jennifer Whiting, Former Chief Technology Innovation Officer, Curriculum Manager, and Educator

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