One Size Fits All…Not

Originally posted by Rochelle Diogenes on Acrobatiq.

Adaptive learning is a key strategy in higher education today (see previous blog, What’s A Seventeen-Year-Old to Do?). Research shows that online courseware based on personal learning data has increased success for diverse students. It’s clear that in education one “size” does not fit all.

While this research and practice has made an impression on me, others continue to debate the pros and cons of tailoring programs to individual learner needs.  Looking for more confirmation, I found a study that underscores the need for a non-uniform approach from a source outside of education.

A recent BuzzFeed article, This Is What “One Size Fits All” Actually Looks Like on All Body Types, describes the results of a test on consumer reaction to the trend towards replacing delineated sizing such as 10, 12, 18, with clothing in one size that companies advertise will fit everyone or as one company says, “most.’

In Buzzfeed’s experiment, they asked five young women, sized 0-18, to try on samples of the same outfit produced as “one size” to compare how they fit. BuzzFeed showed their results through photos and the participants’ comments.

The outcomes of the fittings in terms of physical appearance could be anticipated. A skirt only fit on one leg of half the women. One shirt looked like a dress on others. Clearly, to fit physically, the clothes had to be altered to individual characteristics.

What was surprising was the women’s comments on how the general experience affected them psychologically. It wasn’t just about how they looked. They all talked about how the experience made them feel. I took the liberty of substituting education phrases in a representative response [original wording appears in brackets]:

Allison [size 0]: “There’s clearly no such thing as one size fits all! Everyone has a different way of learning [shape], and higher education [clothing stores] should embrace that instead of making people feel shitty for not being able to succeed [fit] following what they deem to be a universal learning pathway [size]. ‘One size fits all’ sends a message that if you don’t  learn successfully in their programs,[fit into the clothing], whether it’s too advanced [big] or too slow-paced [small], you’re not ‘normal,’ and leads to all sorts of feelings of [body] dissatisfaction with how smart you are and how successful you can be.” 

Kind of eerie that the message for clothing and education can be the same. Yes, education is more complicated; you can’t look in a mirror to see how a course fits you, but over time you will feel the psychological effects of the right or wrong fit in a course.

Which brings us back to why we should continue to move towards adaptive and personalized learning online and in the classroom: these strategies put learning in a context that supports all students without stigmatizing them for starting at different levels or coming from diverse backgrounds. And, a positive environment motivates learning.

As Lara [size 4/6] says: “We’re all different, so the idea of ‘one size’ for all of us is just absurd. Different minds [bodies], unite!”

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