Personalized Learning: A History of the Present

Jory Brass, Tom Liam Lynch


This article historicizes 21st century personalized learning by tracing its lineage to 20th century technologies that were considered commercial and educational failures. It explores important and often ironic links between past and present attempts to personalize learning through technology to trouble claims that personalized learning is a fundamentally new model of education that has broken free of the “industrial model” of education reform. At the same time, personalized learning illustrates how democratic governance of education has been displaced by new policy networks, datafication, and algorithmic governance. This curriculum history wears away at grand claims about personalized learning and makes tactical use of past struggles over machine-based learning to provoke more rigorous debates about learning, digital governance, and the growing influence of venture philanthropy, technology companies, and intermediary organizations in educational policy-making and curriculum development.


personalized learning; curriculum history; education reform; educational technology; venture philanthropy; industrial model; behaviorism; learning analytics; educational privatization

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JCT: Journal of Curriculum Theorizing is an interdisciplinary journal of curriculum studies. It offers an academic forum for scholarly discussions of curriculum. Historically aligned with the "reconceptualist" movement in curriculum theorizing and oriented toward informing and affecting classroom practice, JCT presents compelling pieces within forms that challenge disciplinary, genre, and textual boundaries.

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