Changing the Learning Curve

Dwight Jones has a dilemma but he sees it as an opportunity.   Facing drastic budget cuts in Clark County, the fifth largest district in the country, superintendent Jones  invited the board of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) to visit with him management team to discuss strategies for boosting learning and operating productivity.
Jones has a great background for facing this new challenge.  He previously served as the Commissioner of Education for Colorado.  He helped introduce new learning models in Colorado and has brought his optimistic perspective to his new role in Las Vegas.
I share superintendent Jones’ optimism.  While the immediate challenges are grim, the future is bright.   Personal digital learning is changing the way the world learns.  Informal learning—Wikipedia, search, peer-to-peer sites, and tutorials—is making it easier for anyone to learn anything.
In schools, learning is getting more personalized, more engaging, and more online.  These three benefits—customization, motivation, and equalization—are changing the learning curve by helping students learn more faster.
Customization. The first generation of online learning allowed students to vary rate, time and location.  But increasingly, adaptive products like ManagaHigh*, Knewton, and Dreambox create unique learning pathways.  School of One gave us a vision of a personalized learning playlist based on learning level and best learning mode.
Customization will result in more learning per hour.
Motivation. The biggest problem we face in secondary education may be boredom.  The casual game folks seem to have solved that problem.  They’ve learned a lot about calibrating a sequence of events to foster persistence.  Learning games, virtual environments, and social networks like Edmodo* are increasing engagement and stickiness of formal education.
Motivation will result in more learning hours per day.
Equalization. If a student has a connected mobile device, they have access to at least one great math teacher—Khan Academy.  As states and districts begin providing (or ensuring) universal access to mobile devices, most U.S. students will soon have full time (or at least improved) access to 24/7/365 learning.
As states expand access to multiple providers of online learning, more students gain access to quality courses and effective teachers.
Mobile technology and online learning enable cost effective strategies for extending the day and the year.  It’s quite possible that in many locations students that need it most will spend twice as much time per year engaged in productive learning activities.
Equalization will result in more learning hours per year and consistent access to quality learning experiences.
In each of the next few years, we’ll get better a customizing instruction, boosting motivation, and improving access to quality learning experiences.  Dwight Jones and I both serve on the iNACOL board because we’re optimists—we’re confident that we can create schools that work better for students and teachers.
* Learn Capital portfolio companies.

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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