Have you ever wondered how Google, Facebook, or Amazon recommends you something or show online ads that are very close to your interests? As many people know, these online services heavily gather and analyze user data including previous visited websites, friends network, keywords entered, and so on. With the data, they customize user experience accommodating each user's interest and need. This is how they make money.
If commercial services can do it, why not higher education? Similar efforts are emerging in higher education, especially in an e-learning field. According to a news report from Inside Higher ED, the University of Phoenix, a big for-profit higher education institution, announced at the 2010 Educause conference their ambitious "Learning Genome Project", which they hope to revolutionize online learning by individualization.
According to Angie McQuaig, director of data innovation at the University of Phoenix, the Learning Genome Project is "building a new learning management system (or LMS) that gets to know each of its 400,000 students personally (i.e., infer students' details from their behaviors in the online classroom) and adapts to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of their learning DNA."
For example, if students learn better from watching a video than reading a text, the system will feed them more videos. If a student is bad at interpreting graphs, the system will recognize that and present information accordingly.
While it sounds great, the project is just a conceptual framework for now. However, if the project comes to true, it may provide significant benefit to students and may be better than traditional offline learning in terms of accommodating individual differences. It is very difficult for instructors to meet individuals' different learning styles in an offline class of 20 to 30 students.
There are, of course, challenges. First, it would be very expensive and difficult to build the learning management system. Second, the privacy issue will be huge. One could imagine how people would worry about and want to protect their personal data. McQuaig later said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the University of Phoenix will let students choose how much information they submit to the system.
Despite these challenges, it seems that some other higher education institutions will follow the University of Phoenix in order to enhance their online learning and student success. In a near future, we may be able to see individualized e-learning become popular and its impact on educational achievement.