Blended and Personalized Learning are major buzz words in K-12 education due to the current digital learning evolution taking place in schools across North America. Personalized learning is defined by iNACOL as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.” Blended learning is simply a medium where digital technology is used to support instructors in the delivery of a personalized learning model. Much of the hype surrounding personalized learning stems from its potential impact on helping educational institutions implement a competency-based model as a replacement to the noticeably flawed "one size fits all" traditional grade-based education used in schools today. Here is a great blog post by Luis Flores that provides reference to some of the current research on various blended and personalized approaches currently being explored.
K-12 institutions are busy applying blended and personalized learning frameworks to majority of the core subject areas. In light of this, physical education seems to be getting overlooked when it is really the subject area most in need of transformation. This is not surprising as physical and health education have been marginalized in K-12 schools for years, reflected by the current health epidemic we are now facing. Or maybe it is due to screen time being viewed as "the enemy" when it comes youth physical activity levels, making the concept of digital devices improving long-term physical activity levels unfathomable. But what if mobile devices could be leveraged to facilitate the personalized learning approach needed to revamp physical education classes, paradoxically enabling the substantial societal benefits that result from life-long participation in regular physical activity?
This is exactly what our team at Athlete Era is working on for the past three years: leveraging mobile technology to develop an effective platform for enabling educators to apply a personalized learning methodology to the unique learning environment that is movement-based education. The concept emerged from a collision of multiple different worlds that took place when a group of exercise scientists, software developers and multi-media experts decided to start an edtech company devoted to improving health through fostering increased participation in sport and physical activity. I would like to now shed some light on how this approach is possible and share some of the concepts driving our product vision, providing a framework for others to explore.
Now this might be breaking news to some, but researchers have uncovered many of the reasons as to why we are suffering from a physical inactivity epidemic. Numerous solutions to this issue have been presented, one of the most critical being revamping our physical education programs to meet the 21st century health needs of our population. Much of this revamped approach is centred around implementing a competency based approach to learning basic movement skills, assessing a variety of outcomes rather than just fitness, and adapting PE activities to better meet the current learning needs of each student rather than playing sports every class; In essence, implementing a more "personalized" approach to PE. Much of this is aimed at providing a remedy to the root-cause of physical inactivity, which is repetitive exposure to negative social experiences during physical activity at a young age. This can quickly destroy the internal motivation for life-long engagement in physical activity as it becomes associated with negative, rather than positive outcomes. Digital technology is a prerequisite to make personalized learning possible and educational institutions need a solution built for the specific demands of PE. Here are some mediums we are exploring to make this all possible.
How can tech help bring personalized learning to PE?
- Using mobile devices to help aid the instruction of movement skills: Learning fundamental movement skill (jump, throw, kick, etc.) competency is a critical component to improving PE programs and lying the foundation for an active lifestyle. Up until now, mobile devices have primarily been used to record movement skills so students can review their performance. While this can be helpful in some instances, it provides little support for teachers who do not have experience coaching movement skills to begin with and lack the time to sift through pages of YouTube videos searching for an appropriate coaching video prior to every lesson. Providing PE instructors and students with a mobile friendly, short skill tutorial video that has appropriate coaching cues for school-aged children can help empower them to instruct and learn the basics without significant time investment. For schools with a 1:1 device to student ratio, augmented reality can be used to provide each student with an immersive personalized skill demonstration experience of their choice. This is something we are currently experimenting with on our platform (watch a YouTube video of the prototype here). We do not want PE to simply become MORE screen time; however, if 5-minutes of screen time at the beginning of PE can improve motor skill learning through an immersive quality skill demonstration experience, it is well worth the long-term benefits.
- Mobile friendly individual assessment: mobile friendly assessment checklists can help teachers keep track of various physical and health education outcomes for each student individually, while the students are engaging in activities during PE. This helps save time and provides the ongoing data to modify upcoming activities for groups of students based on their individual progress. In addition, it provides a simple way to document the delivery of physical and health education curricula within schools.
- Improved organization and efficiency for small-sided games: Small-sided games are a great framework to help personalize PE activities. With this approach, you can create small groups of students (ideally, groups of four to eight students) and have each group do a self-contained activity with the necessary rules and guidelines to challenge them effectively based on the skill level of the group. While great in theory, organizing a single activity during PE can be difficult enough, let alone attempting to organize and run four small-sided games simultaneously. Mobile devices can be used as a useful tool for communicating to each group of students what activity they are doing, how to set it up and what the basic rules are. This helps deliver the benefits of a small-sided games approach while preventing the physical activity time lost due to organizational chaos.
- Smart activity selection and modification: By linking individual student assessment data to PE game and activities, we can create an intelligent system that makes decisions for teachers in regards to how they can modify specific activities to better meet the current learning needs of students. With the shift to cloud-based software, it is possible to enter assessment data on your mobile device during class, send it to a database, then receive real-time feedback with recommendations on how an activity should be modified, all while the instructor is in the gym. This is one of the many potential benefits that arise when educational technology products deliver complete solutions where the collection of assessment data is viewed as an enabling mechanism to improve the future delivery of educational content rather than simply a way to document and report learning progress.
The ever increasing power of mobile devices is opening a world of possibilities to be explored in regards to how they can improve movement-based learning experiences. The list above encompasses some of the approaches we are exploring in the development of the first complete blended learning resource for physical education that will be available for use during the 2018-2019 school year. This can help empower schools to start receiving all of the benefits of a quality PE program without adding more demands to already overwhelmed teachers.