Personalized learning has been a centerpiece of the move to individualize instruction and learning for years now, with many schools embracing it.

Question is: Should they?

Take Oklahoma’s Hinton High School which, two years ago, embraced its promise, jumping on the tech bandwagon in a big way. Before long, however, disenchantment…

Says former math teacher and current principal, Jarred Hohmann, “Personalized [learning] wasn’t working across the board. Kids were frustrated, teachers were frustrated, the community was frustrated.”

As for why: lack of enough discussion time, struggling kids didn’t ask for or receive much needed help, and those who didn’t much care, simply slacked off.

Today, at Hinton, tech individualization takes the form of both remediating and accelerating learning, but not as a stand-alone, but, instead, with “a variety of strategies to teach concepts and objectives.”

Meanwhile, the Education Week Research Center took a close look and found that, when it comes to personalized learning:

  • 41% of respondents believe it improves student learning “quite a lot” or “a great deal.”
  • 51% believe it customizes instruction for each student.
  • 33% said it improves learning.
  • 38% said it provides all students with equal opportunities to succeed.

When asked about concerns with personalized learning:

  • 72% said students spend too much time on screens.
  • 48% said students working alone too much.
  • 47% worry about tech gaining too much influence over public education.
  • 38% believe companies collect too much sensitive student information.

When asked how personalized learning can help schools…

  • 62% of principals and 41% of teachers said it can improve student engagement.
  • 51% of principals and 38% of teachers said it provides all students with equal opportunities to succeed.
  • 74% of principals and 51% of teachers said it customizes instruction for each student.

About personalized learning contributing to problems…

  • 49% of principals and 72% of teachers say it leads to students spending too much time on screens.
  • 38% of principals and 48%% of teachers say it leads to students working online too often.
  • 35% and 47% of teachers say it’s giving the technology too much influence over public education.

So, does personalized learning really work?

The answer: Maybe, maybe not…

Rand Corporation’s senior scientist and lead researcher on the subject John Payne says, “At this stage, we really need to be looking at the actual components of what people are trying to do and assess them each on their own.”

In other words, it depends on the situations and circumstances.

Some models, for instance, hope to transform entire schools. One such program, Summit Learning, is supported by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative—as in Facebook—to the tune of $40 million. While it has never allowed an independent, third-party evaluation, it has “inspired” many kids to simply walk out in protest.

Payne, who led a Gates-funded study of some 40 personalized learning schools, found “modest gains and big implementation challenges.”

For my part, give me a well-schooled, nurturing and effective teacher over a screen any time, every time.