Siloed Learning

Students in Echo Chambers

You know we have a silo problem when Facebook decides it needs to tackle the fake news on its platform. And we’ve all heard the growing concerns that we each live in our own echo chamber, reinforced by Twitter, Facebook, and polarized news stations that allow us to hear only those opinions that match our own.

In the classroom, we can unintentionally create those same kind of echo chambers for our students. While the promise of personalized learning sounds great, and has many great benefits, a consequence of fully personalized learning is siloed learning.

What do we mean by “Siloed Learning?”

Let’s take the example from the illustration above and imagine that we’re studying different energy sources. And let’s imagine the simplest form of individualized learning: students reading a passage from a book and answering questions on their own. Here we have three students who have read something and are drawing their own conclusions about it, but they never get to hear what their peers think or why. They aren’t challenged by differing viewpoints and the next article builds on their previous conclusions.

Now take this further and imagine a full, technologically supported personalized learning program. The computer cleverly adjusts the difficulty of the reading to best suit the student and then gives them a follow-on reading that matches their interests and ability. From one angle, students appear to be perfectly met on their own level and are kept engaged with material that interests them. Sounds lovely! But if you look at this from another angle, students are each learning and existing in their own silo. They have no shared experience with their peers — the readings are different, the conclusions are different, and their ideas never interact.

This kind of learning not only limits a student’s worldview, but hinders the kind of critical thinking that evolves from defending (or challenging) an opinion on the spot. In this way, misconceptions and untruths can become ingrained and fester, no matter the individual capacity for learning.

The Teacher’s Role

But it’s not all bad! Remember, there is a lovely side to that personalized learning. How cool to have students exploring information and ideas that keep them excited and interested! The teacher’s role is to find balance. The teacher’s role is to make sure students come back together at regular intervals and share their different readings and ideas. The teacher’s role is to show students how to ask each other thought-provoking questions and challenge each other’s conclusions. The teacher’s role is essential to draw students out of their own echo chambers and engage one another.