Ohio Should Expand Digital Learning Opportunity and Promote Innovation

The following is a testimony was prepared for the Ohio House of Representatives Committee on Education Hearing on Digital Learning on February 1, 2012. 
Chairman Stebelton, Vice-Chairman Newbold, and Ranking Member Luckie: My name is Tom Vander Ark, and I was invited here by KnowledgeWorks to share my thoughts on digital learning. I am the author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World, CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner in Learn Capital, a venture capital firm investing in learning content, platforms, and services with the goal of transforming educational engagement, access, and effectiveness. I previously served as the Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I believe that Ohio should expand digital learning opportunity and promote innovation.
Over the next few years most American schools will provide students with access devices, shift to predominantly digital instructional materials, give tests online, and support teachers with powerful tools.  They will blend the best of online and onsite learning to boost achievement.
The shift to personal digital learning brings three primary benefits:

  1. Equalization of digital learning opportunity will extend access to the best teachers, content, and courses.  When every student (and family) has 24/7 access learning resources more students will graduate ready for college and careers.
  2. Customization will boost learning productivity—students will learn more per hour.  In addition to learning at the right level and the ability to varying rate, time, and location, it is becoming increasingly possible for each student to learn in the best modality.  Some students will learn fractions with Khan Academy tutorials, others using the visual approach of ST Math, and still others by the games of Mangahigh.
  3. Motivation will boost engagement and persistence—students will learn more hours per year.   Engaging content, more self-directed learning, and tactics borrowed from casual games will extend learning.

Digital Learning Now, chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, outlined The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning and provided a roadmap for state policy makers.
Power Student Options. Ohio House Bill 153 expanded access to online learning.  The important next step is to power student options with portable funding structured to support completion and achievement.
Like Michigan, Ohio should require every student to complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma.
The state should develop a robust authorizing capacity to oversee multiple providers.   The state could conduct an RFP for AP, dual enrollment, and foreign languages courses and share savings with districts.
Remove Barriers.  Ohio should remove barriers to digital learning including class size ratios, and seat time requirements.  The state should make sure students and families understand their learning options.
To remain relevant, certification should be performance based with well-supported alternative pathways.  Online resources should be provides for Ohio’s teachers
Pilot & Promote Innovation.  Ohio has strong STEM and online learning resources that, with state and philanthropic support, could be leveraged to create innovative blended learning network that features competency-based learning models which allow students to advance upon demonstrating mastery.
Ohio will be implementing Common Core assessments from PARRC in 2014, a useful timeline to plan for and phase in improved student access and to expand pilots and teacher supports.
The next three years will be pivotal year for connecting digital learning to Ohio’s 1.8 million students.

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

Ed Jones

Tom, thanks so much for coming to Ohio and sharing the day. Aside from being great to finally shake your hand, the day's events were just extraordinary helpful.
Thanks to KnowledgeWorks--especially Dr. Lisa Duty, our hosts at OSU and the Statehouse, and all who helped sponsor/put this together.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Ed. Great to meet you.

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