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How to start making Gonski's personalised learning a reality

Sarah Crossing

Sarah Crossing

May 2, 2018

Gonski 2.0 is being criticised because it seems to ask the impossible. Let’s solve that, here. 

Why personalised learning, why now?

The Gonski 2.0 review points out what we all know – teachers know, parents know, students know – that our school system is a model of mass production. Jump back two thousand-plus years ago, Aristotle was teaching Alexander the Great - personal, one-to-one lessons were the norm. In fact, personal, one-to-one learning was the norm throughout history, until we hit an era of mass production, which led to one-to-many classroom teaching. Now, in April 2018 personalised learning is the headline-making recommendation to come out of Gonksi 2.0, and has received Government backing.

The downside to this old system 1,000 or even 200 years ago? Not everyone had access to an education. And it has been the victory of Australia’s school system that every child does have access.

But if personalised education has always been more effective for learning, why not make it the standard again? In short, student-teacher ratios, scale, the size of Australia, funding, economic inequity, accessibility. This has been the problem - one-to-one learning works, but it has been impossible to make it a reality for every child, so we've all settled.

Except it's not impossible in small steps for every student - and Australian schools (Public, Catholic, Independent) have been doing just that for several generations of high school students already, with Studiosity. This kind of change or solution isn't new in 2018, but Gonski 2.0 has put a spotlight on the need again.


To change Australian schools successfully, we need to take incremental steps

If Australian schools are going to change at all, it isn't going to happen in giant leaps, or with 'another round of major surgery' - as Glenn Savage (University of Western Australia) comments in The Conversation. Huge change, grand plans, finger-waggling, all risk complacency, skepticism, and the 'too hard' basket. Glenn is exactly right, "What is now at stake is not just some tinkering at the edges, but a monumental rethink of the teaching and learning process." And that's the biggest risk.

The university sector is also a slow-moving enormity steeped in tradition. For some of Australia's universities, change has come too late and now seems too daunting. At this stage it looks like more of a knock-down-rebuild effort, creating inertia and '10-year plans'. In fact, Australian secondary education has the luxury of going even slower, under far less pressure for families to seek alternatives internationally via online learning, or cheaper access to overseas travel and attendance like they do in higher education.

The criticism of Gonski 2.0 is that it raises questions that are too big to handle, that hope for too much change. A Gonski 2.0 plan needs to recognise that it's worth challenging the status quo, but that change isn't coming today – and that’s ok. It is - however - not ok to do nothing today or tonight  – and not ok to only rely on the standard ‘5-year plan’ response. A five-year plan tells a Year 7 family it's too late for them. 

To be effective, Gonski 2.0 implementation needs to take one small step at a time and simultaneously keep its eye on the big picture. We know this better than anyone in the world - you can achieve something amazing in one small step every single night; but then you must repeat it a million times. For us here at Studiosity, that small step is about 20 minutes of on-demand help when a student feels stuck or needs to ask a question during study. That 20 minutes for just one student's confidence and critical thinking is measured and recorded progress, and for a school, happens thousands of times over in one evening (see Table 1).

Of equal importance to individual care is equity and scale - the big picture. Which is why the million repeats is the real goal. And a million 'a ha!' moments together start to look like achieving the 'major surgery' required.

Table 1: A real example of the learning progress of a student getting help from a Studiosity expert, April 2017.

Student's enquiry
Critical thinking...
Critical thinking...
Student's reflection
“Hello, I am stuck on one section of an assignment. I am required to identify how the body returns back to homeostasis with coeliac disease. I have to use the liver, small intestine and the blood for this. So I'm unsure how I can talk about homeostasis in relation to coeliac disease. Any advice is appreciated. ”
I'm not too sure, I've tried googling a way to find a negative feedback loop however there is nothing on coeliac disease. I am completely lost as to where to start. The only part I know is that I need to relate it to a negative feedback loop.
Oh that actually makes so much sense!
For the liver could you do that the body tries to filter the gluten? is that a thing?
Ahh yes I see. So when the person stops eating gluten her liver enzymes would revert back to normal seeing as her body is no longer in stress?
I can definitely make this work and I can do more research so I can get evidence of this. But overall yes it makes perfect sense.
The person who assisted me helped me tremendously when I was really stuck on a major part of an assignment. He gave me the opportunity to find the answer and when it was evident I was struggling he stepped in to guide me in the right direction to have the answers I was after. I hope this gets integrated into all units as it was extremely beneficial, more helpful than uni discussion boards!


Teachers need better access to information about their own students

Shouldn't every teacher be able to see individual outcomes from the previous evening's homework, like for that student in Table 1?

Gonski 2.0 found that “current assessment tools in schools did not provide teachers with 'real-time or detailed data on a student's growth.'" Yet, our supermarkets know customers’ real-time activity, so do our banks, and almost every website you visit.

A Year 11 student’s independent thinking and progress happens after dinner when they sit down for homework and study. Why can’t a teacher be clear about what that student’s struggles were, their victories, their progress the night before? Did every student in the class understand the homework?

This kind of daily progress and outcomes report is applied to lessons to help inform teachers' personalised learning and curriculum management. This would be a bottom-up approach, where measurement needs to go through teachers and schools every day, week, month - rather than being delivered top down once a year.

And this level of change relies on teachers being able to uncover after-hours study outcomes themselves. It's as simple as an email, because putting extra technology burden on teachers isn't the point, the point is helping them, help students. The after-hours study help that drives that reporting is far more complex, but after several generations of high school students, is robust, trusted, and continues to prove that it works, every evening.


Stop focusing on learning hours limited to 9am – 3pm 

For this enormous undertaking - nothing less than changing the entire system of schooling in Australia - let's start by simply using a few more of the available learning hours in the day. Because why are we expecting to do more – school leaders to do more, for teachers to do more, for students to engage more, and to get parents involved more – all within the same number of school hours as 50 years ago?

Systemic education has never been 9am – 3pm, five days a week. It’s after 3pm, it’s after dinner, it’s Friday nights, and weekends; it’s during holidays. We need to capitalise on all the times students need personalised help the most desperately - when there is no teacher to ask. After hours, students are still studying, struggling, and learning.

Let’s look at those high-pressure, high-risk realities after hours as existing, available, small-step opportunities for confidence and growth. Students are already using them, and this kind of targeted change immediately leverages existing behaviour, without requiring any change to schedules or school hours or teacher workload.

The added benefit is that we can finally stop expecting parents to help with Year 10 algebra or a King Lear essay just because school ended at 3pm and it’s their ‘homework shift’ now. Not all parents can, and those who can have already worked a full day. Not least of all, apparently not all those parents who are willing, should help – parental hours spent don’t correlate with improved student performance, indicating quality, not quantity, of support is important. Timely, efficient help increases a student’s confidence and perseverance.


Evidence of brand new, one-to-one learning outcomes every day, for every student

Hundreds of thousands of students have already received personalised learning feedback after hours, online from a real person, with Studiosity. 

And as you’ve been reading this, some teachers have been looking at this personalised data before their next class starts.

Parents in every state and territory have said 'let's go ask someone at Studiosity' to help their child with a maths question, physics question, or an essay draft - rather than struggle for hours after dinner and have it end in tears.

It's been happening for 15 years and has helped several generations of high school students. It's easy and measurable, progress is made every night. And this is true for public, private, Catholic, regional, rural, remote, and urban schools. Online, personalised study help doesn't discriminate.


Is it time for equity between schools?

Schools with Studiosity have either had these opportunities thanks to exceptional school leadership, teachers eager to learn and adapt to support their students, or thanks to generous university partners looking to pave the way for more students to enrol with them.

Gonski 2.0 isn't reinventing personalised learning, the review is telling us about something that already works. Let's likewise implement solutions that have already been proven. Let's start making the review achievable in small steps, by looking to support teachers and students at times of existing stress. Let's ensure every student who needs help, can connect online with an expert who can help them immediately.

Is it time that every student had access to personalised learning help, tonight? Every school and community deserves this equal opportunity for tailored learning from a real person, and every teacher deserves a full set of tools to support every student as an individual, every new morning.

How it works >


About Studiosity

Studiosity is personalised study help, anytime, anywhere. We partner with institutions to extend their core academic skills support online with timely, after-hours help for all their students, at scale - regardless of their background, study mode or location. 

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