The Value of the Personalized Learning Program

Joseph J. Green

Northern Arizona University

The Personalized Learning experience was quite interesting. While it is almost exactly what I want out of schooling, there is certainly a lot of room to grow, and indeed, the program was improving over time while I was using it. This essay will explore many of the good parts of these lessons along with some of the content I particularly enjoyed, the bad parts, and a general overview of my experience with Personalized Learning.

The Good

The Personalized Learning program has a lot to offer. The very idea to charge a flat rate and provide all required materials extremely valuable. Furthermore, the rate charged for my subscription was nearly completely covered by the Pell Grant, which makes this style of learning valuable for those who have the desire to expand their education to pull help find their way out of poverty. It also pulls all the stress out of trying to make sure the right books of the right editions at the right price are found from the student by providing all required materials in the price of the subscription. Furthermore, many of the lessons are well put together and provide only the exact material needed from the sources in question to avoid confusion to the student. Course contacts and the message system was also extremely valuable until it was (apparently?) disabled. Many of the contacts were very helpful, with exceptional praise towards Kristin Leonard, and everyone I’ve communicated with in the entirety of NAU has been responsive and courteous. While the messaging system seems to be down, it is still possible to email them, and responses are quick, but it does add a layer of complexity, and, of course, the ability to work at my own pace is outstanding. For example, here I am, completing over 50 credits within six months, but even only completing 25 credits per subscription would be immense value.

While there was a lot that I enjoyed here and there throughout the experience, it’s hard to pinpoint specific lessons and ideas that I found particularly enjoyable. I plan on following the path of philosophy after finishing my BA here, so all lessons talking about theories and philosophy were of particular interest to me. Specifically, I recall enjoying subjects relating to socio-criminal theories, like broken window theory, but really all social theories are at least somewhat interesting to me.

The Bad

Now that we’ve seen a lot of good from the program, let’s focus on the bad. First, flash is bad. Flash is to be deprecated by 2020, and the school needs to find a new solution for video playback. It was also annoying with the Kaltura videos requiring the use of third party cookies, which is a pretty common security issue. Often times test questions seem to be more interested if the student has read specific things, such as particular events in Corina’s way, as opposed to the point of reading such material, which is to reinforce the point of the particular lesson.

I seem to recall one lesson involved a story where a teenage girl was brutally raped and murdered, while I certainly do not enjoy reading such material and even a bit disturbed by it, some people may have adverse reactions to reading such material. I feel that such material should have an appropriate warning and certainly not be required for any testing or essays. I seem to recall having to read over it a few times to answer some test questions. Thinking back on Corina’s way, some lessons seem to have a disproportionate amount of reading. Reading Corina’s way, for example, just to answer a couple of test questions on a post-test, sounds like a huge time sink with very little value to the student. The credit value of lessons also seem inconsistent. Some one credit courses take way more time investment than many two credit courses.

Lessons also seem to vary greatly in quality. Where one lesson will have the perfect amount of reading that illustrates the exact point of the lesson, others will have close to a thousand pages of information, most of it beyond the scope of the lesson. Others still will have information that’s simply low quality for the point of the lesson. The lesson involving theories of Sorokin seem to come to mind. I read through theories of all the involved theorists in that lesson, and I couldn’t really grok any of the information about the theories of the men, but learned plenty about what kind of people they were.

Lastly, there were simply way too many films. Films are better than books for times sake, but it feels like this lesson, and indeed this capstone, is all about films, which I believe is but a minor part of the greater liberal arts field. I also found that there were far too many films that were in a foreign language. While this is valuable for certain lessons, it seems a bit inappropriate when films in English can meet the goals of the lesson. Having to pay attention to subtitles, filmography, and the plot, can be a bit daunting at times.

The Overall

Wow, that was a ton of critical feedback, but I truly believe that overall this is still an amazing program and concept, and I hope it continues to improve. I believe that this style of education is a breakthrough for people of all socioeconomic classes and those who are unable to dedicate the time, or living expenses, of traditional education.

Throughout my time in Personalized Learning, things did change quite a bit, and mostly for the better. In particular, having Pearson removed from most lessons helped making everything a much more pleasant experience. The ability to work at my own pace was a major draw for me, and has certainly helped me to succeed. Some things were strange, such as some readings leading to web articles and others leading to files to download, or how some assignments required slideshows or spreadsheets while asking for content that would have been much better off in a document, but an overall good experience.

As for how this program will help me outside of college? Well, I’m a bit different. I go to school to learn, not to prepare me for anything specific, so this education doesn’t help me for any one specific thing, but helps me be a better thinker. Which helps in all aspects of life. Liberal arts, specifically, is wonderful in teaching people that they have a choice in how and what to think.

As for experiences in completing the various lesson categories, with my transfer credits, the liberal arts major was the only group I actually had to complete any lessons in. I’m not sure how prepared I feel in my writing skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and scientific reasoning thanks to completing these lessons. Writing I’ve always been somewhat good at, which was noted by a teacher once way back in high school, but at the time I hated writing and didn’t seek to improve. Today, however, I feel that my writing skills were already superb before I started these lessons. As I recall, on my compass test I scored a perfect on the writing section, and more recently in life, the past half decade or so, I have taken a stronger interest in writing, but still, it mostly just comes naturally. However, my analytical skills have certainly improved. Art and film are two things I’ve never been that interested in, but being forced to deal with them in order to obtain my degree has expanded my analytical skills, which actually encourages me to dislike films even more, but I think that is somewhat the point.

Personalized Learning was quite the experience. There was much good to be had with the program, but there is certainly much that can be improved upon. However, overall, Personalized Learning was a great experience. I certainly know that my mind is much more useful to me thanks to this program. I could have gone to traditional schooling for sure, but that would have significantly limited what I could do outside of school, such as choosing where I live while working on this program.

NOTE: I’m aware that this essay is over 1300 words and that the limit is 1000. I can, of course, cut a lot of content and get it down to that point. However, I feel that feedback is very important. If I need to revise it, I ask that this essay, as it stands, is submitted to the appropriate people who value such feedback.


The Personalized Learning program of NAU for Liberal Arts (2018)