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NEPC’s May Education Interview of the Month Features a Discussion on Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching

BOULDER, CO (May 14, 2019) – In this month’s NEPC Education Interview of the Month, Lewis and Clark College Emeritus Professor of Education Gregory A. Smith speaks with Faith Boninger and Alex Molnar, of the University of Colorado Boulder, about personalized learning and digital privatization.

Boninger, Molnar, and Christopher Saldaña’s recent brief, Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching, explores the growing popularity of this technology-driven approach to teaching and learning. They point to the need for rigorous oversight of personalized learning programs.

Personalized learning programs relying on digital platforms collect student data and shift control away from local communities and teachers, putting curriculum and other educational decision-making into the hands of opaque algorithms created by unknown and unaccountable programmers. Boninger and Molnar explain that this shift also places student assessment “behind a veil that nobody can see or understand.” 

To prevent personalized learning programs from harming students, Boninger and Molnar call for the external review and approval of curriculum materials by independent third-party education experts. States, they say, must establish an impartial government entity to review digital products intended for use in personalized learning programs. This entity would establish processes of review and approval, by third-party education experts, of all aspects of the programs used in schools.

The language used to promote personalized learning conjures up a misleading image that would have teachers believe that new digital technologies have transformed learning, but Boninger and Molnar point out that this is untrue. 

The rationale for data being collected is to provide teachers with all the information necessary to help students follow “personalized learning paths.” Examination of products’ privacy policies, however, reveals little explanation of which data are collected, or with whom those data are shared. Boninger and Molnar recommend that states require all companies that produce products for personalized learning to be held to a detailed, transparent, and easy-to-read privacy policy. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All NEPC Education Interview of the Month podcasts are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here

This concludes our NEPC Education Interview of the Month series for the academic year. Please tune in next September for more smart, engaging conversations about education policy.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: