6 Digital Learning Accelerants

A handful of smart people called yesterday in search of digital learning accelerants–an handful of initiatives that would speed the adoption of personal digital learning (print to digital, sequential to adaptive, time to learning, isolation to teams, static to mobile, short day/year to anywhere/anytime).  Here’s six:
1. Learning platform ecosystems with open and adaptive content, comprehensive learner profiles, smart recommendation engines, lots of apps, and associated services (see all Ten Elements) will make it much easier to launch customized and competency-based learning environments.
Rapid advancement will take a lot of investment and that would be facilitated by philanthropic risk abatement (e.g., contributing an early $10M to what becomes a $250M investment). Agreement on an electronic student record and Common Core micro-standards would also help. Perhaps most critical is sustained and collaborative leadership public-private partnerships.
2. State leadership on the shift to digital is key.  A couple people can flip a state.  If a chief, governor, and urban superintendent get together and commit to preparing for and leveraging online assessment in 2014-15, they could build a 26 month plan that would transform an entire state.  The full change process will last a generation, but clear and compelling leadership can make a huge difference right now.   That’s why I appreciate the leadership of Gov Jeb Bush and Gov Bob Wise, co-chairs of Digital Learning Now, a state policy framework for the future of education.
3. More high performing blended learning environments that personalize learning, extend the day/year, and leverage teaching talent with technology will result from philanthropic investment, local and network leadership, and better platforms.
4. Evidence, some conclusive, but much starting as data-driven hypotheses rapidly tested in iterative development environments.  As recently noted a program of basic neuroscience research combined with short-cycle trials would an enormous contribution to our understanding of the variables that produce persistence and performance.
5. Barrier reduction is key to unleashing the bottoms up change we’re seeing. To some extent, the shift has already occurred and our students and teachers are just waiting for us to catch up.  Now that anyone can learn anything anywhere, we to think about how to get out of the way including:

  • access to high quality options for every student (why on earth would we limit learning opportunities to those available at the school down the street?)
  • providing competency-based assessments for students in alternative pathways
  • support for teachers leading flipped/blended environments

6. State assessments will continue to shape American education. Both consortia will implement assessments in 2014-15 that represent a step forward, but we need to keep pushing the second and third version of these tests.  (see What Does Going Digital Mean for the Future of K–12 Assessment?)

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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