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Embracing Personalized Learning for the Post-COVID Classroom

In recent years, our collective definition of a “classroom” has taken many forms. We once perceived it to be a one-way street from teacher to student, but in this new century, we’re welcoming technology into the conversation and increasing our avenues for learning with the help of its inexhaustible well of potential. As technology continues to evolve, so does its place in the classroom.

For instance, in Georgia, a robot helps teaching assistants answer frequently asked questions on an online message board, thereby allowing TA’s and instructors to free up time for more meaningful dialogue with students. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at how we, Divergence Academy, shed the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” educational model for a better approach to teaching and learning called personalized learning. Personalized learning is simply where each student has a personalized learning experience tailored to their unique needs.

As we continue to explore how advancements in tech help to augment our ways of learning, we have implemented more customized roadmaps that allow for students to choose whatever learning pathway fits them best. As a result, this enables our students to determine their individual outcomes which powerfully impacts their experience upon entering the workplace.

Factoring in the students’ what's and why's

At Divergence, supporting students requires understanding their different needs in order to help them achieve their individualized outcomes. This school of thought is backed by research from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, where student performance and test scores improved by an average of 30% when learning was personalized. As Divergence provide students the opportunities they need to achieve success, we consider three crucial factors:

  • Background: What is their previous educational and work experience? What experiences can they connect their new learning to? How are they adding to their toolbox?
  • Interests: What do they want to do?  What drives them? What excites them? What direction do they want to go?
  • Job opportunities: What opportunities have they come across and how do these impact their career launch? What is a first step or a next step for that individual?

Using these factors as a lens, our instructors adapt to the needs of students and meet them where they are in a true personalized engagement. Our students are offered the infrastructure needed to succeed via a personalized learning model, implemented with the help of synchronous and asynchronous support.

personalized learning

Photo by Divergence Academy (2019)

Personalization by understanding and connection

The better we know our students, the better we can adjust to their individual needs. In cases where a student’s basic needs are not met, it’s crucial to respond by being accommodating and supportive. During these moments, we believe that helping them become healthy and energized for school will maximize their learning and enable their success.

Attending to higher tiers in a Maslow-ian hierarchy, our goal is to assist their quest for self-actualization. By providing the necessary tools and support for success, students at Divergence Academy can commit to an experience that will teach, test, and transform them. 

With a wealth of resources to choose from (ranging hundreds of hours of virtual classroom recordings to offline mentor support to live-feedback industry workshops), students now have the autonomy and confidence to prioritize which modules of the program and learning experiences provide their best pathway to a new career. As a result, each student owns their roadmap and every step they commit to. 

At Divergence Academy, our students benefit from these dual engagement models: 

Remote Synchronous Learning

The school year starts and ends with them present—either virtually or physically—in our classes. By attending lectures, students interact with both their instructors and other students. Live engagement provides expert instruction with facilitated activities and continuous, intentional responses to questions.

Asynchronous Support

When students are unable to attend virtual classes, recordings can be accessed and labs completed as their schedules allow. Instructors regularly respond to student needs as they catch up. They can also opt-in for individual support on interview prep and resume development. Current students connect with an extensive network of instructors and alumni at webinar industry engagements and weekly Career Service workshops.

With asynchronous support, students can catch up or supplement their learning for the course within their own time frames. Students' lives demand flexibility and accommodation, so they have autonomy to determine what works best for them.

A similar case is being explored at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, where a group of researchers led by Ken Koedinger have built an intelligent tutoring system geared towards tracking students' progress. This system also assists students in acquiring new computational skills by permuting all possible scenarios through which a problem can be solved. The AI answered the instructors’ dilemma of needing to double-check answers and served as a way to help build students’ confidence in their own solutions.

This aligns with our view that technology is a tool that can be leveraged to set students up for success. With neither the instructor nor the learning software dictating and articulating the student's learning path, the system we've implemented is more concerned with empowering individuals to determine their own path so they can, in turn, make their own decisions. 

When applied to other institutions, this could mean integrating adaptive learning systems to personalize and customize students' learning based on their progress. 


personalized learning

Photo by Divergence Academy (2017)

The power of personalization in action

By moving beyond a 'one-way information delivery method' with a restricting students-teacher ratio, our goal at Divergence Academy is to improve the overall learning experience. This requires smaller classroom sizes to make room for more individualized attention.

With this engagement model in mind, students are taken out of simply focusing on lectures and instead encouraged to participate in discussions that pave the way for more reflective insight. In support of this experience, our instructors work extensively outside of classroom time to coach and develop mentor-mentee relationships. By shifting the focus away from memorization, we leverage the benefits of retaining information better when students translate lessons into their own words.

Additionally, our instructors facilitate student-to-student engagement through setting up virtual small groups in sub-channels on Microsoft Teams. These small groups are entirely lead by students and fosters the development of not only technical skills, but of necessary soft skills such as decision-making and team collaboration. Acting as moderators and overseers, instructors step in only to provide redirection when students require support during collaborative focused group discussions and supervised lab time.

Carving out the future, today

The concept of personalized learning is not new or innovative, as many academic institutions, across the world, have already successfully implemented this model. The challenge then goes beyond simply addressing the disadvantages of a “one-size-fits-all” classroom and more towards placing a premium on empowering students to embrace their own autonomy and self-responsibility.

This empowerment, when actualized, will harness students who have a strong sense of agency over their education, from what they learn to how the classroom operates. This nurtured sense of agency will then take them beyond the classroom into our modern-day workforce, proving to be an invaluable, in-demand asset. 

As we move forward in a post-COVID landscape, the use of online educational platforms and emerging technologies to support personalized learning in virtual, collaborative classrooms will be ever-more prominent.

At Divergence Academy, our top-tier instructors are globally-recognized IT practitioners with real-world experience at leading companies. Our unique combination of immersive learning, foundational skill building, hands-on experiences, and ongoing support prepares graduates who have led in the military to lead and succeed in your company.

We present you with diverse candidates, from military and non-military backgrounds, that have both emerging tech skills and demonstrated motivation to immediately impact your bottom line. Reach out to our team to learn more about how we can meet your needs for in-demand talent in Cyber, Data, Cloud, and AIat no cost.