2x Time with Digital Learning

Most kids in America would benefit from spending twice as much time learning in a positive place—and that should be a combination of more time at school, more time at home, and more learning time at community-based organizations (CBO).  That’s why I’m excited about attending The After School Consortium (TASC) Digital Learning Forum on July 27 in New York. Here’s how TASC summarizes the opportunity:

Digital learning could dramatically change the educational landscape and begin to connect all assets – schools, families, community-based youth development organizations, cultural institutions – into learning opportunities that transcend physical boundaries. Kids with means and access interact with web-based learning every day, at home and in school. We have a chance to ensure that the least advantaged kids aren’t left behind. Expanded school days and Out-of-School Time (OST) programs offer the ideal time, place and conditions to personalize learning, next-generation style – not just by delivering stand-alone enrichments such as tech clubs, but by using web-enabled tools across curriculum and activities, and by contributing to citywide networks of learning opportunities with students at the center.

Five factors would lead to most students benefiting from extended learning opportunities:
1) Personal digital learning.  States and schools should create plans to ensure that every student has 7/24 access to online learning resources.   The shift to digital instructional materials and online assessments should save enough money to give every student a tablet.  Some schools will choose ‘bring your own technology’ high access environment with check out netbooks for kids that need them.  Family leased laptops with low income scholarships are another option.
2) Framework for a long year. American kids should be learning 230 or 240 days a year (at least 210 days in school).  By adding a month or two to the school year with a few more breaks, more remedial and enrichment time can be built into the year.  Partner organizations can take on 30-40 days academic activity.
3) Framework for a longer day. American kids should have a structured 8 hour day full of academic, enrichment, and extracurricular activity.   Personal digital learning in a learning lab (e.g., Rocketship, Carpe Diem) for a portion of the day can make the extra time affordable and productive.
Like West Adams High School in Los Angeles, a CBO supported 7-to-7 program can provide enrichment and academic support activities.
4) Fractional funding. As recommended by Digital Learning Now, weighted funding should follow students to the best learning option.  Students with more risk factors should receive more funding and should be able to take some of that funding to CBOs and educational service providers.
5) Portable learning record. Multiple providers, both formal and informal, should have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from a portable student learning record.  Families should manage the privacy settings and should decide which providers can contribute to the profile.  Rich data sets will power smart recommendation engines that will make learning more personal, targeted, and productive.
6) Competency-based progress. Multiple-provider educational environments will work best when students progress at their own pace toward clear benchmarks of demonstrated learning.  Repeating a grade is crude and ineffective treatment for struggling students.  Personal digital learning can diagnosis and target individual gaps.  Competency-based environment allow students to move at their own pace and get more time and help when and where they need it
Expanding access to online learning and expanding capabilities of providers enables an exciting possibility of blended CBO schools.  Organizations that leverage community assets (e.g., museums, parks) or provide extracurricular activities (e.g., Boys & Girls Club, music groups, soccer clubs) can partner with an online learning provider to form a great school with extended and applied learning opportunities.  For example, an approved charter in New Jersey is partnering with a drum and bugle corps—school will go on tour with the kids.
My friends at TASC hope this meeting will “translate ideas into actions that could lead to higher achievement, deeper student engagement, an infusion of human capital, and the next wave of education entrepreneurship.”

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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