It’s Complicated

From the movie It's Complicated

An early reader of my book, Getting Smart, didn’t think I described the practical difficulties of using technology to improve education. Fair enough. I didn’t set out to write about the problems, I wrote about the promise.  I attempted to simply state the reasons that I think learning technology is a big deal for kids in the US and even more so for kids in emerging economies.
That said, it’s really complicated to deploy learning technology in ways that will produce step change improvement. Layering tech on top doesn’t do much for kids.  Real productivity gains come from fundamental change–and that’s hard.

I talk about the difficulty/complexity of the transition and the lack of capacity everywhere I go (most recently, last Wednesday at Philanthropy Roundtable) and attempted to make that clear in the book in many places including the following:
The fundamental rules of education are shifting and the change process is complicated in its academic, fiscal, political, and human dimensions. During this decade most U.S. schools will adopt models that blend online learning and on-site support, which means most U.S. superintendents and principals will manage through what…Bryan Setser called “a perfect storm of reform.” His advice includes abandoning seat time require- ments (get a waiver if you have to), stop buying textbooks, use open education resources on inexpensive tablet computers, and stretch staffing by moving students online for at least part of the day.6 While facilitating changes like this, leaders will need to host ongoing community conversations, model professional learning, and demonstrate project management and resilience.  This will be an exciting but very challenging decade.
After an updated treatment of the 10 shifts that change everything, I suggested that, “The shift from a print educational model to personal digital learning is a complicated project with academic, human resource, technology, financial, as well as policy and political dimensions.
The transition will be demanding for states, districts, networks, schools, and teachers (I think the kids will do just fine). That’s why OpenEd is providing planning support to states and districts, why we’re supporting talent development projects, and why we’re promoting new approaches to assessment.  It’s complicated, but it’s time to put a stake in the ground and build a good plan.
For more see

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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