Because Getting Smart’s mission is to advance innovations in teaching and learning that stand to impact education for all students, we’re fortunate to have a seat at a lot of tables. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call them the “_____ learning” tables. This means that over the past year, I’ve been involved in conversations about educational impact at the blended learning table, the competency-based learning table, the digital learning table, the personalized learning table, the online learning table and so on.

Coming off a year with that perspective, when I was invited to join other Hewlett Foundation grantees in San Francisco for three days of deep thinking on deeper learning, I set out on a personal mission to explore how dots could connect and lines could intersect.

This week confirmed that the conversation at each of the _____ learning tables is remarkably similar. There were discussions about how to collect and share best practices, how to find the champions, where to tell the stories, who to identify as key stakeholders, why scale matters, etc. And, while there may be disagreements about things like which challenge deserves the most attention or who to engage and when, there’s one common thread that runs through all the tables where I’ve had a seat. It’s the deep belief, often backed by a strong passion and personal investment, that whatever the _____ is filled with holds the greatest potential to improve and impact educational opportunities for all students.

Herein lies the problem. I think.

I get nervous when I hear questions like, “Is _____ learning the new black?” Questions like this are based on the underlying assumption that movements like blended learning and deeper learning are merely fads, destined to be replaced by whatever pops up next as soon as something new comes along. I have observed (and am also guilty of, alongside my fellow education innovation advocates) a tendency to talk in terms of trends and the differences among them. I fear this creates the unintended consequence of feeding into the “this is just one more thing” mindset that thwarts the progress of these various movements. What’s more, it starts to feel a bit like Greek “Rush Week,” leaving everyone from principals, parents and policymakers feeling like they have to hurriedly evaluate and pick a favorite.

These observations leave me with two key questions – Who will be the architect that designs a way to bring all these movements together? How can we get all these tables under one tent? I have some ideas. It’s my hope that our readers, each with their own thoughts on ______ learning will share their comments and observations from the table where they sit.  

To me, the greatest chance we have to bring all the moving pieces together is to keep the focus on goals for teaching and learning. Personally, I think deeper learning–with its emphasis on core academic content, critical thinking & problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication, academic mindsets and self-directed learning–offers an ideal starting point for building a foundation of common goals upon which all other _____ learning movements can be built.

For example, what if the “rallying cry” chosen after reading Michael Horn and Heather Staker’s book on blended learning implementation was a reorientation of the school around deeper learning? After all, Horn and Staker themselves recently reminded the field that blended learning is about more than technology and other resources such as the Blended Learning Implementation Guide from Digital Learning Now, Getting Smart and The Learning Accelerator suggests starting with goals for teaching and learning as step one.

What if competency-based learning was seen as a necessary key component of any personalized learning system, because they both have deeper learning’s student-centered and self-directed learning in common? What if deeper learning became synonymous with 21st century education as Ken Kay suggests?

But this is only the beginning of figuring out how all the _____ movements can come together to have the most impact. What if the developers of digital learning tools heard a unified call that represented growing demand for deeper learning instructional materials and assessments? What if parents chose online learning providers, schools or districts with their children based on the an evaluation of opportunities for deeper learning? What if policymakers spoke a common language with teachers, principals and practitioners across the system – all advocating for deeper learning opportunities as a framework for college and career readiness?

Call me crazy, but I think it’s possible. Because there’s a growing awareness that alignment deserves our collective attention.

It’s definitely going to take alignment. It’s going to take a cohesive orientation around common goals. It’s going to take getting up from the table where we typically sit and inviting new people to sit at each of our tables. And I’m pretty sure it’s the only way we’re going to really make a difference for all kids. I’m up for it. Who’s with me?

Interested in learning more about how and why deeper learning can help support your own _____ learning movement, check out these reports and infographics from Getting Smart.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Couldn’t agree more about the need to build a solid movement of people and organisations that have progressive ideas about education, learning, teaching and schooling. Enjoyed this article very much. You rightly identify many different schools of thought, if you will, that have many ideas and features in common, which should come together and seek greater alignment and coherence – perhaps develop a common language or at least agree on terminology and definitions of such things as ‘progressivism’ and ‘student-centredness’. We wouldn’t and probably couldn’t agree on every single idea or approach but we can at least identify the ones we have in common rather than focusing so much on our differences. Without a collective movement our individual voices remain too weak and too divided to command attention and promote the changes that are desperately needed by the millions of students and teachers worldwide who are ill-served by education systems and philosophies that are not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
    Gary, London, England

  2. I’m with you Carri. Our district is moving towards blended learning but I like your thinking about deeper learning…it’s timeless and as you stated, it is at the core of every single __________ learning. (Or at least it should be.) I guess my question is, “what next”? As excited as we are to move forward, it feels like an enormous endeavor…and I’ve got to believe most districts are feeling the same way. “Blended: Using Distruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” is a great starting point but I think we’re going to need even more support. So let’s start with the most obvious question: What does the rallying cry look like if deeper learning is the focus? Looking forward to learning more from you!

  3. Carri –
    Thanks for keeping this important conversation going! Love this piece. Our ___ – learning definitions at Students at the Center are very in line with what you’re proposing. We’ve based our framework on our 4+ years of research synthesis and field scans. Our four-part definition of student-centered (a term roughly interchangable with personalization) fits into an overall goal of the process _and_ outcome aiming for deeper learning. Here’s our current version of how we define the terms and some FAQs of the world of other ____- learning. http://www.ewa.org/sites/main/files/main-images/satc-faq-definitions-1201141.pdf and http://www.jff.org/sites/default/files/iniatiatives/files/SATC-OnePager-112014.pdf. So when do we get everyone in a room for a day & half to map this all out?!?! :o)

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