How Philanthropy Can Improve & Accelerate the Shift to Digital Learning

A philanthropic services director called this morning and said, “I’m trying to figure out where the bottlenecks are [in blended learning adoption] where philanthropic giving might matter, and what can be done for different price points.”  Here’s my answer:
$10k. Support two flipped classroom pilots at a local school.
$25k. Support a blended learning blog, media channel, and road show.
$50k. Support a Rocketship and/or ST Math-style learning lab if school agrees to adopt a rotation model.
$75k. Support a state digital learning plan.  States and districts have 25 months to get ready for online assessment.  Every state needs a three year plan for high access environments.
Sponsor development of state digital learning plans that integrate college ready standards, online assessment, technology access, professional development, and communications.
$100k. Support a new flex high school or upper division flex program. Here’s 10 reasons every district needs a flex model.
$100k.  Sponsor an interactive 10 paper series on The Shift to Personal Digital Learning to support informed state and local decision making and investment in partnership with Digital Learning Now!
$200k. Support a national blended learning conference series.
$300k. Support a national series of urban leadership workshops with iNACOL.
$400k. Support iNACOL’s initiative to boost the quality of online and blended learning.
$500k. Launch a dynamic and cost effective approach to research and product testing by helping teachers find/create experiments and share result.
$750k. With a leading platform like Edmodo, demonstrate the value of personalized learning and empowered teaching pilot in a couple cities.
$1M. Develop a Common Core badge system to motivate learning and manage competency-based progress.
$1M.  Sponsor a blended elementary math initiative in your hometown (like the Orange County Math Initiative).
$1M. Blend a city by sponsoring a plan, improved access, and professional development (e.g., DeVos in Grand Rapids).
$2M. Support implementation of one strand of the shift to digital learning (access, professional development, models school grants) in your state.
$5M. Adopt and scale a high performing blended charter network. Beyond the usual suspects check out these California high school networks: Leadership Public Schools, Summit Public Schools, Alliance for College Ready Public Schools.
$10M. Invest in an impact-focused education venture fund (as a PRI or through an endowment investment)
In summary there are numerous opportunities to focus, improve and accelerate the change process:

  • Planning: school, district, network, state
  • Piloting: flipped classroom, blended programs, new schools
  • Researching and advocating: online resources, conferences, workshops

There are lots of bottlenecks to overcome:

  • money is tight and it’s hard to make budget realignments
  • limited success models, particularly conversions
  • limited vision of blended models–most educators don’t know what good looks like
  • school, district, and state change capacity is very low
  • student access feels like a big, expensive, and controversial project
  • skepticism and demoralization from years of weak leadership
  • inadequate tool set (ie, platforms aren’t where they should be)
  • inadequate tech support

But the change forces are equally compelling:

  • online assessment is coming in 2014–yes, it’s time to plan
  • explosion of quality digital instructional materials especially free and open
  • rapid teacher adoption of new tools
  • parent and student adoption of new tools
  • growth of online learning
  • plummeting device costs

The change is not about the technology, but what it can do to improve learning. The most profound and productive part of the shift will be to personalized and competency-based learning.  Networks like like Big Pictures and EdVisions have been doing this for decades but it’s really hard to well and at scale without a technology-enabled platform.
Disclosures: I’m working on most of these in some fashion

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.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.