How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning

Co-written by Tom Vander Ark and Carri Schneider
Here at Getting Smart, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve learning. We advocate for tools and schools that work better for students and teachers. We love to see and share stories about engaged learners producing quality products.
Creating the recipe for deeper learning experiences is an ongoing pursuit for us and for many of you who are reading. Great teachers have always asked good questions, pushed students to go further, and demanded demonstrations of learning.
We believe it’s possible to create learning environments at scale that ask more of our students and support their success with a sequence of experiences that prepare them for their future. We think these environments will blend modes of learning and will always ask students to show what they know. We know it’s possible to create great low-tech experiences, but we believe that to create deeper learning opportunities at scale that schools will need to use new tools to leverage teacher talent.
Today we launched “How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning.” We’ll call it the first in our “Secret Sauce Series” that reveals how different components come together to create the most favorable conditions for the best teaching and learning to take place. In this case, those ingredients are Deeper Learning and Digital Learning.
The paper grew out of our July response to the NRC Report where we argued that it would be impossible to advance the paper’s deeper learning recommendations at scale without an accompanying digital learning agenda.
The Hewlett Foundation says deeper learning prepares students to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and learn how to learn.
There are many great teachers and some schools who have figured out how to create opportunities for deeper learning for the students they serve. Common Core State Standards and next generation assessments support the idea of deeper learning. However, we believe it will only be possible to create deeper learning opportunities at scale by employing personal digital learning tools that customize the educational experience and serve the individual needs of each student on his/her own unique learning path.
This paper identifies three primary ways that digital learning promotes deeper learning:

  1. Personalized skill building in preparation for deeper learning: for example, adaptive learning in the Learning Lab at Rocketship Elementary;
  2. Schools and tools that foster deeper learning: for example, project-based learning networks like New Tech and Edvisions; and
  3. Extended access: expanding access to quality courses and effective teachers online.

In many cases, when we have observed deeper learning, we’ve seen students taking on new roles: writing as a journalist, experimenting as a scientist, investigating as a historian, building as engineers, inventing as entrepreneurs, managing working hands-on as an apprentice, coding as a gamer, and coaching as a teacher. Check out our infographic “Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning” for more on these roles.
To encourage deeper learning at scale, we offer 10 recommendations that will help state, district and policy leaders to think through the steps to achieving deeper learning at scale such as providing incentives for models that support deeper learning, developing leaders, convening to share resources, developing new platforms, building upon existing frameworks such as 10 elements of high-quality digital learning from Digital Learning Now! to inform implementation.
Download the full paper, “How Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning,” and learn more at

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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