Rebooting Education: Technology & the Future of Learning

Philanthropy Roundtable held a one day conference on the Stanford campus.  Here’s a summary of two interesting morning discussions
Panel 1: Kid’s Eye View of Online Learning: Connie Yowell, Michael Horn, Susan Patrick
Eleven year old Zach Bonner kicked off the Roundtable meeting with a tour of Florida Virtual Academy, K12 powered school.  Online education works well for Zach because he also runs a small foundation and conducts walkathons—he can take school with him.  Here’s a few highlights, Zach:

  • is a sixth grader taking seventh grade math and English
  • sees a daily progress report across all subjects
  • does a mixture of online and offline activities

Michael Horn, Innosight (Clay Christensen’s shop) discussed disruptive innovation; it usually starts on the edges  and competes with non-consumption (or at least easy entry point) and offers affordability, customizability, scalability.   Horn illustrated how important the policy environment is for innovation by comparing higher education, where about 20% of students take online courses, to K-12 where about 3% learned online last year.
Susan Patrick, iNACOL, stressed the uneven nature of online learning opportunity.  “If you’re a NY student, you have no full time or supplemental online learning opportunity.” Thirty four states have state virtual options.  Florida’s state school served 154,125 students last year, about 6 times as many as any other state school. (By comparison, K-12 serves about 250,000 across 18 virtual charters nationally.)  Twenty-one states have an authorizer for online learning.  Thirteen states have the best case scenario—a statewide school (or online statewide resource) and statewide online schools (usually a mix of nonprofit, district, and for-profit operators running contract or charter schools).  Susan stressed that online learning is “a scalable solution but policies and funding are limiting access and blocking broader opportunity.”
Panel 2: Killer App in K12: Kim Smith, John Danner, Caprice Young, Larry Rosenstock
Before debating the killer app, the panel, moderated by Kim Smith from New Schools, talked about the cool stuff they’re each doing:

  • Larry, High Tech High, talked about his graduate school, his interest in online content, and HTH plans for adding virtual options for families
  • John, Rocketship, described his early example of how blended formats can save money and improve performance
  • Caprice, KCDL, serves 52,000 students, most of them are students in traditional public schools that are supplementing their education online

Not surprisingly Caprice suggested that online learning is the killer app.  More specifically, she suggested that the killer app would be integrated formative assessment data to drive individual learning paths: courseware that learns from the student as the student learns from the courseware.
John suggested the hybrid formats that blend online and onsite learning were the killer app.
There was a suggestion that dual enrollment would could be a killer policy app.  With the expansion of online learning and transparency in placement exams (the hidden gateway in the system today), more students should be able to earn more college credit in high school and eventually earn college degrees.
I nominated social learning platforms as the killer app.  Soon most learning networks will run on these ‘Facebook/iTunes for schools’ platforms.  Content, assessment, teacher training, and student tutoring will be apps that run on these platforms.
A related killer app will be smart recommendation engines (e.g., iTunes Genius + Wireless Generation Burst) that monitor learning level, interests, best learning modality and motivational profiles (i.e., what’s the hook that will make them persist?) to find and queue learning objects into a unique daily ‘playlist’ for students. Joel Rose’s School of One was the first crude example of a smart recommendation engine running against multi-provider content.  Sylvan and Provost offer partially adaptive content platforms with early recommendation engines.  Like the Netflix prize, a smart edu recommendation engine this would be a great prize application.
The Philanthropy Roundtable crowd voted for hybrid schools as the killer app. I’ll go along with that—I’m incubating a blended charter network in the Northeast (and they’ll run on a social learning platform).
Coming in second in the voting was adaptive formative assessment.  I’d add content embedded adaptive assessment.  Learning games use sophisticated assessment but it runs in the background; it’s not a post learning task—it’s instant feedback during the learning experience.  As content becomes more personalized, we’ll see more assessment embedded and we’ll see more productive learning.
Most audience members also agreed charter schools would be most likely lead to breakthroughs, that high schools students would benefit more than k-8 students, and that student technology would be more beneficial than teacher technology.
Philanthropy RT designed a great conference that was attended by a great mix of funders, practitioners, and entrepreneurs.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

John Danner

My vote was actually for educational gaming. I completely expect the curricula we are plugging into our learning platform today to be replaced completely in the next few days by educational games. My bet is not on totally immersive MMO games, but on casual games with clear goals, things kids get to add to their space (like Webkinz) and a way to establish hierarchy (I'm a 43rd level Mathematician!) I find this area fascinating because the games world has gone so far down the road in figuring out the behavioral characteristics of people, what makes them tick, and how to reward and motivate. They've figured out how to get kids to spend 15 hours a day playing their games and we should use that to try and get the most out of those 15 hours per day.

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