Age of Learning’s transformational new school products help teachers put students at the center of supportive learning environments as they achieve mastery through the blending of applied learning science with adaptive, personalized technology. We call this approach the Personalized Mastery Learning Ecosystem™ (PMLE™).
Encompassing the student, the teacher, the family, and school administration, the PMLE is the conceptual framework for the development and implementation of both My Math Academy and My Reading Academy.
Ecological frameworks play a significant role in whole child development. A comprehensive approach to supporting students engages educators, students, families, and communities to foster healthy development across various domains such as social-emotional outcomes, mental and physical health, and cognitive development (Wasser Gish, 2021).
One strategy to promote equity within the classroom, especially for the most vulnerable of students, has been to consider how students’ academic lives intersect with their lives outside the classroom and to shape instruction so it draws on students’ experiences (Carter & Darling-Hammond, 2016; Lee, 2017; Ladson-Billings, 2006).
While engaged in remote learning, teachers and students accessed more digital tools and programs than ever before, including many curricular tools that use personalization or adaptive technology to differentiate learning. Our research shows that districts have a strong preference for these types of solutions: 80% of the district leaders we surveyed identified differentiated instruction as an essential feature when considering whether to adopt a digital solution.
These types of tools and programs recognize that each learner is different and has unique needs. No two students learn the same way; students can use various specialized processes to interpret the same information (Gardner, 1993, 2011). Because of this variability, one-size-fits-all solutions are inherently incapable of addressing the needs of all students in a classroom. This is even more true when students are disproportionately affected by disruptions, such as those experienced during the pandemic. By meeting students where they are, personalized learning solutions have the exciting potential to help schools and districts provide students with equitable academic experiences.
These solutions demonstrate how adaptive technology can support student learning while helping teachers and informing instruction (Roschelle, Lester, & Fusco, 2020). While these technologies are certainly an excellent start, we believe it is important for digital tools and solutions to consider how personalization can move beyond differentiation in the classroom to empower the learner and their entire learning ecosystem.
An approach that centers on the PMLE may be especially relevant when extended learning opportunities (such as those necessary during the summer or after school) are essential to remediation and acceleration. Providing teachers and parents with actionable data through dashboards or individualized recommended activities is a central component of the PMLE and can empower teachers and parents as partners in learning. These recommendations allow teachers to inform their instruction and parents to better understand how the activities they complete with their children at home can also contribute to mastery.
Findings from our recent pilot study and other internal research indicate PMLE dashboards and supplemental materials can be effectively used by educators to facilitate equitable instruction during major school interruptions. Educators reported that the data provided allowed them to easily identify students’ areas of need, and 86% agreed that the program supported the development of individualized learning plans for their students (Thai & Bang, 2021). By building capacity in all areas of a child’s ecosystem, we empower the adults who support learners in the classroom and at home so that personalized learning continues outside of school.
Studies show the potential impact that strategies to strengthen the connection between school and home can have, especially during educational disruptions: Many parents, especially those of color and from low-income backgrounds, report remote learning led to closer relationships with teachers and greater awareness about their child’s learning, while many educator preparation programs have strengthened their focus on building connections among teachers, students, and families (Barron et al., 2021; Darling-Hammond & Hyler, 2020).
Considering a student’s entire learning ecosystem as part of a district’s technology planning and procurement processes is essential for times like these. In addition to meeting the needs of students and families, many educators felt overwhelmed with learning, teaching, and implementing new and unfamiliar technologies while also supporting a diversity of learning needs remotely. As educators transition back to the classroom, it is essential that digital tools streamline the process of identifying areas of unfinished learning for each learner. Additionally, as families play a more active role in supporting education during school closures, these same tools should strengthen the connection between teacher and caregiver so that personalized learning can continue at home—despite any extenuating family circumstances.
In the 2020–2021 school year, Age of Learning’s My Math Academy program was piloted across 77 early childhood education classrooms in Texas’s Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (HCISD). As a Title 1 district, Harlingen schools serve students from low-income and rural backgrounds who were most susceptible to under-connected and unfinished learning during the pandemic. At the height of school closures, Harlingen administrators remained committed to providing high-quality education to their students and sought out solutions that would strengthen foundational math knowledge, help teachers identify their student needs, and facilitate personalized instruction for each student.
My Math Academy was provided as a solution for more than 900 Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 students and their teachers. Our School Solutions team worked closely with Harlingen administrators and teachers, providing virtual training and webinars that supported an in-depth understanding of each aspect of the program.
As part of the Personalized Mastery Learning Ecosystem (PMLE), My Math Academy consists of three components designed to support the learner, teacher, and parent: (1) an adaptive system providing appropriate scaffolds across 130 game-based activities that address 96 math concepts, (2) a Teacher Dashboard providing real-time student data and recommended supplemental materials, and (3) resources that engage parents at home.
Young learners using the My Math Academy program made gains in math learning to a degree that Harlingen teachers and administrators said they had never seen before. Mastery of math skills doubled for 4-year-olds and tripled for 3-year-olds, compared to prior knowledge assessments conducted at the start of the pilot. Additionally, several kindergarten students demonstrated exceptional growth across Texas state standards and performed at a 2nd grade level (Thai & Bang, 2021). Similar math gains were reported when we surveyed Harlingen teachers: More than 90% reported that My Math Academy had a positive impact on math learning skills, including number identification and counting skills, and over 96% reported increases in children’s levels of engagement, interest, and self-confidence in math learning (Thai & Bang, 2021). Teachers agreed that the program enabled them to easily identify areas of need for each student and access supplemental materials that supported daily math instruction and aligned with instructional goals. When we interviewed teachers, many described the Dashboard as an essential support allowing them to focus on differentiating instruction for their students.
Ultimately, Harlingen’s experience provides strong evidence for the utility of My Math Academy’s personalized learning system and adaptive Dashboards in empowering educators and students, effectively supporting math learning during a school year with many interruptions.
These results convinced the Harlingen administration and board to expand the My Math Academy program to all students in pre-k through 2nd grade.
At Age of Learning, we believe the educational technology and solutions districts use to achieve student outcomes should also reflect a holistic approach to whole child development. That’s why we are committed to developing partnerships with districts like Harlingen. Through the PMLE framework, we intend to improve equity for all learners by enabling students, teachers, and parents to collaborate in creating powerful and effective learning experiences, especially even through possible future disruptions. As districts reevaluate the technology solutions adopted over the last two school years and plan to implement new tools, let’s work together to strengthen the system of support for all students and encourage a lifelong love of learning.