“Blended Learning Philanthropy” by Susan Patrick first appeared on the iNACOL Education Domain: Online Learning.

What’s been on my mind: new learning models, role of philanthropy, practice and policy (including new accountability)… all student-centered.

As we think about what is possible to help all students access a world-class education today, there remain major issues and barriers to increasing access for each child to high-quality learning opportunities. A major focus must be on transforming education – and on creating models to expand access and drive a future of equitable systems with systems of supports. The key barriers I am focused on are 1) policy barriers such as seat-time, 2) quality assurance models, and 3) new learning models that can transform to more effective, student-centered, competency-based learning.

With a transformational model in mind, what needs to change in the practice of teaching and learning? How do we know change can lead to college and career readiness and deeper learning outcomes for students?

I believe the design of new models is key. Design of new instructional models that are student-centered and mastery-based are the drivers for rethinking what is possible for students.

Blended learning incorporates the best uses of online learning technologies into classrooms where students have some control over pacing. Equally important, blended learning environments should be designed to be student-centered and competency-based, so that students can advance upon demonstrated mastery.  Students should have an opportunity to set clear learning goals and meet those targets with some agency, that is, with the ability to find ways to learn that match their interests and passions. Given digital content, learning beyond a textbook and true personalization have come of age.

What is required in blended learning environments? The number one area is people!  Change management and support of continuous improvement design requires teachers and school leaders with the vision that new models can support educators and students alike in the goal toward student-centered, transformed, personalized learning. The most important aspect of the models remains the engagement of the learner with people who care – the teachers and the educators are the key to personalized instruction and high-quality education. Armed with technology and online content to provide support and access to new content, teachers and students have timely feedback on what is working, showing what they’ve learned along the way and moving through material in ways that best suit an individual’s needs. Working together, teachers and students find new models can provide additional learning time (anytime, any place), new and better student supports, all while reimagining the activities of learning around the student’s needs.

So, finally… I have had people asking the question lately about the role philanthropy can play in supporting new learning models using online and blended learning.  Here are a few thoughts…

New Blended Learning Models: Implications for Philanthropy

  1. Pilots – fund planning grants; work is really hard, continuous improvement, scheduling supports, content development and selection, platform selection, data collection.
  2. Human Capital/Professional development – need leadership training for new models for leaders, administrators, teachers for new instructional models and data management (how to get data, how to use data for personalization).
  3. Policy – move from seat-time, accountability growth on individual student trajectories at the student level; performance-based/outcomes-based accountability; increasing access to good teachers.
  4. Infrastructure/IT – need access devices and bandwidth, platforms and IT systems to support new models of learning.
  5. Community-building and outreach – support awareness building for school leaders, communities, and host events on “blended learning: the future of education”
  6. Evaluation and research – need to understand what works in high-quality and performance-driven systems.
  7. Student supports and educator supports – developing systems inside and outside of school for anytime, everywhere learning.
  8. Practice – support for building understanding of new models, grants for out of the box design thinking, student-centered, competency-based education models.

There should be no limit to how fast and how far a student can go. Let’s reward models that have solid results and close the achievement gap – and let’s reward models that are able to do the most with the most disadvantaged youth. We could rethink policy, accountability and funding from the student level up – rewarding success for individual student growth, funding per pupil, not seat-time.

Accountability systems must begin to be designed on student-level trajectories, with data rolled up for school accountability, district, state and federal data needs. We’re still reverse-engineering from an age-based, cohort-driven accountability model. Let’s think differently about holding all programs to higher, outcomes-based performance metrics that focus on how well we are helping all students reach their goals.

Let’s focus on opening policy to enable what is possible – for transformative student-centered learning to happen, we also need supportive student-centered policy and accountability.

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