Learning in 2020 is a frustrating undertaking. And no, I'm not just referring to the unique challenges imposed by a global pandemic. Though, a moment of silence for all the students out there - 8 hours into glitching videoconference lectures, wondering when they'll find the time and motivation to actually get some learning done, making hilarious memes that show just how real the struggle is. Respect. πŸ‘ŠπŸΌ

But for real, it's not just the current state of the world that's making things tough. Learners today face all sorts of challenges. The world is changing. Fast. And people are scrambling to keep up. The old model of "get a degree, get a standard job, and stay put until age 65" is gone. This is a good thing. I don't know about you, but I kinda had a few plans for my prime years that didn't involve a cubicle. πŸ€¦πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ

Instead, today's landscape is much closer to a gig economy, with people upskilling and changing jobs - even careers - constantly. And while going to school to learn is a well-trodden path, the delivery is generic, the cost high, and the relevance of the degree to our new world debatable. Learning online is the solution to these problems, but it's a gnarly path to navigate. Content is everywhere, and proliferating fast. Guidance is hard to come by, and it can be a lonely journey.

While it sounds like I just left you and the other learners of the world between a rock and a hard place, fret not. There is a way forward. Let's take a wander down Modern Apps Lane for inspiration. What do you notice? Companies in every sector are leveraging technology and data to transform our daily lives. Amazon, Spotify, Google, and Netflix are revolutionizing the way we shop, listen, search, and watch. They analyze us, and millions of others, to understand our quirks and goals. Then, they leverage that data to personalize our experience and get us to the outcome we want in a smooth and enjoyable way.

And herein lies the escape hatch to get us out of the rock-hard-place problem that we are so painfully facing in education. We need to put on our fancy pants and start implementing the incredible technology available today to analyze learners so we can really get to know them. Then, we need to use that data - and the data from millions of other learners - to truly personalize the learning experience. Still with me? Let's take a look at why this approach is the only way forward.

πŸ‘ŒπŸΌWe Can Constantly Adjust the Learning Journey

Every learner is totally different. Some of us are video 2x speedsters, fully caffeinated and breaking hotkey usage records. Some of us are more of the tea-sipping book readers, doodling ideas the old-fashioned way. My brain may work best when I can see all of the learning puzzle pieces in front of me. Yours might prefer seeing a few pieces at a time. Jimmy might prefer to create his own puzzle (who's Jimmy? πŸ€·πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ). Anyway, you get it. We're all totally different. And our learning journeys should be customized and regularly adjusted to match our quirky selves. Why? So we can learn in a 'flow state', where challenge and achievement are balanced just so. This is how we maximize the odds of successful learning outcomes.

πŸ“ˆWe Can Show Learning Progress

Learning in today's world is kind of like stumbling around in a massive, dark shed. You keep tripping over old crap and well-intentioned pitchforks. When your fumbling eventually gets you to a light switch, you realize no one ever wired the place up. And when you finally find a door and walk through it, thinking you've found a way out, you fall into a well. When we know our learners, we can turn the lights on. We can use data and insights to show them where they are, how they're doing, and where they're heading (don't fall in that well, Jimmy! And watch the pitchforks!). This shows the learner that they are making progress, which is one of the most motivating things we can do for them. We all know that motivation is rocket fuel for any successful learning journey.

πŸ™ŒπŸ»We Can Empower the Learner

Once we really know a learner, we can package this information up into bite-sized insights that help the learner know themselves. What time of day are you most productive? Do you solve problems better backwards? Forwards? Upside down? What concepts haven't you grasped yet? Two cups of coffee or three? When we analyze learners and feed insights back to them, we empower them to be autonomous pilots of their own learning rockets. Who doesn't want to pilot their own rocket? But seriously, understanding yourself and feeling in control of your own destiny is what accomplishment and dreams are made of. 🌟

Want to see what it's like to learn and teach in a world where we strive to understand each learner individually?

P.S.: We are offering our software and time, free of cost, to institutions devoted to serving historically underserved or discriminated-against communities. We recognize that humans have created great societal and educational inequalities, and we want to do our part to strive for an equitable and just educational system.

If you don’t know us, we are Sophya. We build learning software that keeps learners at the center. We work with thousands of students all over the world and can help you create a learning experience that is meaningful to and magical for your learners.

Interested? Give us a shout at aloha@sophya.ai!

About the author:

Emma Giles is the COO of Sophya, the world's first Learner Optimization platform. She is a PhD Student at Harvard University, and former Teaching Fellow at Khan Academy. She is an avid ultrarunner (mountains and forests preferred), and probably couldn't live without coffee. Follow her on Twitter @emma_k_giles.

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