• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Back to School: The Rise of Customized Education

    Customized learning has led the education news cycle over the past few weeks as back to school season gets in full swing. And for good reason. Every day there is growing evidence that a seismic shift in the delivery of instruction is underway, bringing with it a tidal wave of educational options for families.

    Earlier this month, the news site Education Week published an inside look at one family’s hybrid schooling experience.

    Emmy Elkin’s school day starts with a cooking show.

    The 10-year-old and her mom, Jill Elkin of Peachtree City,Ga., are up at8 a.m., making breakfast along with “Iron Chef America” and chatting about algebra. Last week, Emmy left home after breakfast to meet a new Japanese tutor, around the time her sister Kayla, 14, dragged herself awake to get her independent mathematics study done before a friend came over for a joint British literature course. The sisters spent the afternoon working through a chemistry course online, with Jill Elkin giving more individual coaching to her younger daughter.

    Kayla and Emmy are part of the modern generation of home-schooled students, piecing together their education from their mother, a former Fayette County math teacher, other district and university teachers, parent co-ops, and online providers.

    Education Week goes on to profileBaywood Learning Center in California, which provides courses à la carte to homeschooling families:

    Parents usually design a patchwork quilt of different classes and activities for their children,” [school director Grace Neufeld] said. “What I see is they sign up for various classes being held in various locations like science centers or museums or different places. They also add things like music lessons, art lessons, sports, or martial arts.

    Bill Mattox of the James Madison Institute wrote early this week in USA Today about a 14-year-old entrepreneur who has earned enough money to buy her first house, a foreclosed home that she purchased with her savings and a little extra help from her mother. Her business model—turning treasures found at yard sales for a profit on Craigslist—is made possible in part by the flexibility her school, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), offers her:

    Willow says taking classes online gives her the scheduling flexibility she needs to run her business. “On trash days, being able to go out and get the good stuff that people leave on the street is really important,” Willow notes. “If it weren’t for FLVS, I’d never be able to do this.”

    In The Wall Street Journal last week, Juan Williams relayed the success of an elementary school in Mooresville, North Carolina, which has shot from the middle of the pack into a tie for second place on student achievement on state tests. The school has embraced online learning and customization in a major way:

    All of their textbooks, notes, learning materials and assignments are computerized, allowing teachers and parents to track their progress in real time. If a student is struggling, their computer-learning program can be adjusted to meet their needs and get them back up to speed. And the best students no longer wait on slow students to catch up. Top students are constantly pushed to their limits by new curricular material on their laptops.

    Higher education is also becoming increasingly customized. Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, an online learning platform that offers free courses to anyone in the world from some of the U.S.’s top universities, explains the massive potential customization that online learning holds. Koller describes how one of her Stanford colleagues had over 100,000 students enrolled in a machine course online. “So to put that number into perspective, for [the professor] to reach that same size audience by teaching a Stanford class, he would have to do that for 250 years.”

    Koller goes on to describe a Princeton Sociology 101 course hosted on Coursera, which included a question-and-answer forum. Students from all over the world enrolled in the course, which meant that if a student was up at 3 a.m. working on an assignment and posed a question, “somewhere around the world, there would be somebody who was awake and working on the same problem,” Koller explains. As a result, in some of their courses, the median response time to student-posed questions was just 22 minutes, “which is not a level of services I have ever offered to my Stanford students.”

    For their part, policymakers should ensure that education funding is free from 19th-century ideas about schooling, in order to empower families to enjoy the benefits of 21st-century delivery models. School choice—whether vouchers, education tax credits, education savings accounts, or virtual schools—ensures that families won’t be left behind when the online learning revolution is in full force.

    Posted in Education, Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Back to School: The Rise of Customized Education

    1. The trend described by this article is an irresistible force. The public schools are organized around 19th Century industrial concepts. Mass production, rote repetition, rigid standards of measurement with little or no acceptable variance. Learning techniques need to catch up with 21st century concepts of productivity – adaptability, customization, quality measured by 360 degree feedback.

    2. Bobbie says:

      It's a wonderful idea! Government public education at any level is way out of hand as far as the perpetuating costs, corruption and consequences improving the quality living of those people involved with government whose results in their work shows no earnest and forces compliance. Makes good sense!

    3. Juan Williams hosted a special on Fox last night, highlighting the Mooresville school and a couple others. They were very intriguing and show what a little freedom and flexibility can bring in innovation. The improved graduation rates and test scores were compelling. They also encourage individuality and personal responsibility.

    4. John Blowers says:

      Without a doubt we are seeing a profound shift in the way we educate our youth. Families are being empowered, students are receiving customized instruction, school systems are being stretched to innovate….this is technology and human ingenuity stepping up to the plate. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient and enterprising man can be when faced with a broken system or process. The massive public secondary schools and colleges of the late 20th century are going to be transformed before our very eyes!

    5. Charlotte Jane Penn says:

      As a teacher myself in the UK (who uses the internet daily in teaching) it makes me wonder where the childhood is for some of these children?

    6. David Warner says:

      Mass production, rote repetition, rigid standards of measurement with little or no acceptable variance.

    7. James Willium says:

      They also encourage individuality and personal responsibility.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.