Hijacking the Discourse of “Personalized Learning”: Neoliberalists Strike Again(?)

Today I was thinking more about the question of  how who we are affects the kinds of words we choose to use to turn the “Personalized Learning” debate in our favour. How does our social location (for example, as privileged, powerful, disadvantaged, marginalized, etc.) and personal agenda frame how we experience, control or be excluded the “Personalize Learning” debate?

I was in a university class today where two of my classmates presented a thought-provoking article by George Lakoff concerning how we frame the discourses in which we engage  (i.e. how the language and metaphors we choose set perceptual limits on the scope of what can be learned.). For example, consider how one group might express a need for “tax relief” and thus frame taxation as unpleasant, onerous, and harmful, while on the other hand, another group might advocate for more taxes as a way to “pool resources” thus giving a favourable, rights-driven slant. Learning about this notion of “framing discourse” gave me new language tools to use to help understand my thinking and explain what I perceive is going on in education right now.

I think some people may feel that “power voices” (like governments, big business) are hijacking the terms like “21st Century Learning” and “Personalized Learning” from groups like teachers who have been fighting for decades in the trenches to create real support for individual students, despite lack of funding, huge class sizes, etc.  There is a feeling of suspicion looming.

CHALLENGING THE POWERS THAT BE: Today, in this world where the government and big business’s brand of “Personalized Learning” may be seen by some as king, if you attempt any critique of (a.) the definition of terms and (b.) the process by which learning will be personalized, you are at risk of being automatically positioned as opposed to student-centered learning or as harmfully discounting a valuable movement based on “petty politics”.  For example, if you dare to even question the positioning of technology as the education’s saviour , you may be charged being negative and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

“CHECKING OUT” VS. “GETTING IN THE GAME”: It is easy for people who are just catching what is going on in education based on 10-second  media sound bites to fall prey to the biased view presented by the “power voices”.  People are further marginalized when they are encouraged or forced to tune out of the gritty educational discussions happening.  I think everyone, so far as each is able, should try to get in the game and have a voice–this blog is my own attempt.  I don’t want only others to speak for me–I have got to try too.  Democracy isn’t about picking a group leader and assenting to whatever is said.  You have to question your government, businesses, unions, colleagues, neighbours, family, friends…and especially yourself.

HOW AM I FRAMING THE DISCOURSE OF THIS BLOG?: Hmmmmmmm, interesting. I may feel 10% smarter  now that I can express a concern with the possible hijacking of the “personalized learning” discourse, but I know I am just on the tip of the iceberg of understanding the historical context.  Also, the fact that I choose the negative term “hijacking” versus a more positive term like “transforming”. What if the key headline term of this blog post was not “hijacking”–what if instead I wrote, “Transforming the Discourse of “Personalized Learning”?

BARRIER TO ENTRY IN THE LARGER EDUCATIONAL DISCOURSE: And why do I, a teacher with who has spent many hours thinking, researching and debating these issues still feel barely intelligent enough to speak on these issues, afraid that my voice is too plain and coming out of a “real” or “important” context?  If I feel this way, how must others feel?  Also, unless I communicate in the new language of the power voices (with splashy multimedia, videos, sexy news sound-bites), I am left licking the windows as an outsider to the discourse.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF THIS BLOG POST? After reading this blog post, some might  (a.) assume I know what I’m talking about, defer to me as some kind of an educational expert and just mentally “check out” and leave pursuing justice in education up to people like me who “get it”.  To that I reply…(Ahhhhh! No! I am an amoeba, don’t trust me!!! I barely understand these things I write, and I only write them to try to get clarity!) Or, perhaps you can see I need more information and to consider a new perspective.  Please leave your comments!

(How does one even get a handle on what is really going on in this debate unless you are privileged to have access to the tools that will gain you perspective! I myself am struggling and that is why this blog exists.)

“Personalized Learning”–What’s the word on the street?

How are people currently reacting to the notion of personalized learning?  I been doing my own casual research, chatting with my teacher colleagues, university classmates and professors, family and friends to get a sense of where things are at on the ground level.  Here is the range of responses I’ve encountered concerning the broader personalized learning discussion happening in my own region in British Columbia.


For example:

  • Enthusiastic: “I love it!”
  • Relieved: “It’s about time!  This is what we’ve waited for.”
  • Hopeful: “We need change—this could be it.”
  • Curious: “I’m intrigued!  I want to learn more.”
  • Put-off but largely accepting: “This is nothing new, I’ve been doing this for years—they can call it what they want as long as they hop to it!”


For example:

  • Annoyed: “Ugh, Please tell me I’m not going to have to re-write my lesson plans again!”
  • Cynical: “Yeah, fire up the ol’ education bandwagon!  We’ve seen this before.”
  • Critical: “This isn’t being implemented correctly.”  “This is the wrong direction.”
  • Afraid: “This will be the ruin of education.”
  • Morally Outraged: “Those neo-liberalists are trying to privatize education with no regard for class disparity!”


For example,

  • Passive: “I go with the flow.” “Well, I’ll look into it if they bring in some pro-d.”
  • Embedded but detached: “What the media/school board office/ministry says or does isn’t going to change what I do in my classroom.”
  • Disconnected:  “I’m not interested in what goes on in public education.” 


For example,

  • Cautious: “I’ve been looking into this. I’m watching to see how it all pans out…”
  • Academic: “I’m committed to researching more before I’ll make a decision.”


For example,

  • Surprised:  “Oh, what? I’ve been so caught up with report cards/marking/family I haven’t noticed/looked into it.”
  • Confused: “I can’t keep up with or figure out this stuff.  There is so much information out there.”

So how would you characterize your general attitude towards the current personalized learning movement as you’ve experience it? Please vote in this poll and/or share your comments below. Thank you!