8 Implementation Challenges and Solutions

By Tom Vander Ark and Carri Schneider
The Digital Learning Now! Smart Series is a group of collaborative papers that bring together top thinkers on the current trends in teaching and learning to explore the implementation challenges at the intersection of digital learning and the Common Core.
Emerging themes include: the power of personalization, tools to customize learning, the potential of technology to transform the learning experience, new roles for teachers and learners, expanded learning opportunities, and the use of student data to drive these shifts.
So far, DLN has published five papers in the series, with three more in production for Spring 2013 release.  The papers have captured the attention of educational leaders and policymakers seeking guidance on everything from devices to data and student access to online assessments. Throughout the series, the authors have challenged readers to consider these shifts holistically rather than in isolation.
For example, John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now! notes “The shift to online assessments for CCSS provides the perfect opportunity for broad and systemic technology infrastructure upgrades within our schools.”  He continues, “The preparation necessary to be ready for the assessments will also provide opportunities for schools to create the environment needed to support next-generation models of instruction supported by digital learning.”
Published SmartSeries Papers
The first paper, Funding the Shift to Digital Learning: Three Strategies for Funding Sustainable High-Access Environments and accompanying infographic Student Access to Digital Learning Devices provide educational leaders with a range of models for financing improved access to devices, citing well-known examples like Maine and Mooresville among a slate of others that prove that equitable access to technology is within the reach of every school and district. For more on the funding paper, see “Digital Learning Now Outlines 3 Strategies for Funding Computer Access.”
The second paper explores the need to move away from traditional student records and transcripts to a mobile, digital solution that supports the shift to digital learning and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles and the Powering Personalization infographic, readers are taken through a vision for a new student record system that ensures personalized learning on day one and powers a personalized pathway toward college and career readiness. We shared more thoughts on Data Backpacks in “Digital Learning Now Presents Data Plan to Power Personalization.”
The Getting Ready for Online Assessments guide and the infographic Countdown to Next Generation Assessments infographic were released next – providing a detailed timeline for state and district leaders to inform the transition to online assessments in 2014-2015.     The paper advises readers to view the shift to online assessments as the catalyst for teaching and learning changes across the system in order to fundamentally shift the education system to personalize learning around the needs of every student. We explore these issues more in “21 months (and counting) to Online Assessments.
The fourth paper Shift from Cohorts to Competency was co-authored by Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks. The paper and “Show What You Know” Beats Batch Processing infographic explore how competency education has the potential to connect learning to students’ passions and interests, drawing them toward higher- order thinking and, therefore, deeper learning. The authors contend that while technology is not a necessary component of competency education per se, advances in edtech have made it possible to bring competency education to scale through an ever-expanding set of tools that can personalize and customize learning.  For more of our thoughts on competency-based learning, see “From Batch Print to Show What You Know.”
The most recent Smart Series offering is the Blended Learning Implementation Guide and How To Implement Blended Learning infographic, co-authored by Scott Ellis of Learning Accelerator. Organized as an implementation tool for leaders ready to act on the expansion of blended learning opportunities, the Blended Learning Guide walks leaders through creating conditions for success, planning, implementing and improving. The guide was released as version 1.0 and will continue to be modified and re-released this summer to reflect input from leaders already putting the guide to work across the country. “Ready to Implement Blended Learning?” provides a nice overview of the guide.
Upcoming Papers
The next three DLN papers to be released this spring promise to deliver insight and expertise on key issues as the shift to online/blended, competency-based learning continues.  Next month, DLN will release a school finance paper with Marguerite Roza that will outline a student-centered funding system that is weighted, portable and performance-contingent.  In May, DLN will partner with Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel of Public Impact on improving conditions and careers that will explore the implications of blended learning on the teaching profession.  Working with Susan Patrick of iNACOL, the June Smart Series paper will use data to bust commonly-held myths related to online and blended learning in order to present the reality and promise that these shifts represent.
Digital Learning Now!, Excel in Ed, and Getting Smart have come together to accelerate the shift to high-quality digital learning for all students by addressing a different implementation challenge with each paper. A forthcoming collection of videos on similar topics will also accompany the series. The papers will be released as an ebook, with updated versions of the papers and Blended Learning Implementation Guide in the summer of 2013.
Share your feedback on the papers by emailing us at [email protected], with the Twitter hashtag #smartseries and by commenting on our blogs and websites.

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