The Personalisation Problem

We begin looking at Personalisation in ELT. Students enjoy activities that are learner centred but many materials include “personalised activities” such as Find Someone Who… games which clearly channel an individual learner’s response and give learners little room “to make the task their own”. There is also a clear discourse of individualism in ELT materials design with a focus on aspirational culture and self-improvement which only contributes to this limited representation of the self. We will then go on to discuss how the term personalisation has been hijacked and co-opted by many kinds of people for different purposes: from Ed-Tech gurus to marketing campaigners through to education policy makers so that the term has become rather meaningless. The power of personalisation is that it sets up a paradigm that is hard to argue with, challenging learning which is “dull”, “linear”, “standardised” and “one size fits all” and replacing it with a system that is supposedly “individualised”, “learner-centred”, “empowering” and “offering greater choice”. We will see how this is often an illusion of choice since it is the algorithms and learning programs which tell you what to learn and the direction to take, not the learners themselves. We conclude that learning is too precious to leave it solely up to the learner, much less the computer program. Alternatives to “personalisation” such as “teaching to what learners have in common” will also be offered.

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