Take A Judo Lesson, Leverage Trends To Make An Impact

As opportunity goes global, competence and initiative are valued more than ever. For individuals, communities and countries, getting smart is a priority.

Want to make a big impact? Take a judo lesson. First, rather than opposing strength, take advantage of momentum. Second, use levers to move big objects. That means change makers should be trend spotters and savvy about using levers like social media to bend trends toward equity.

Change forces, like technology, demographics, and politics, create windows of opportunity you can take advantage of if you are paying attention. There is usually a small window of time to build a solution, demonstrate some traction, and create something that, as my Learn Capital partner Rob Hutter says, “authentically delights a community of users.”

The Black Swan backdrop. The stock market is at record highs. The Dow reached 16,000 in December 2013 and 18,000 in December 2014. Consumer confidence is up, tax receipts and unemployment rates recovered to pre-recession levels. Real estate prices have rebounded in most areas. However, State K-12 education spending per pupil fell in 29 states since 2008. The need to do more with less continues. As Secretary Duncan announced in 2010, we now operate in a “new normal” age, one with the potential and need for “transformational productivity.”

Federal K-12 education policy (ESEA) should have been revised a decade ago and is badly out of date. It will eventually be reauthorized with less federal influence, and an unfortunate loss of bipartisan support for more equitable outcomes.

It’s a big complicated world. Our mental models can’t keep up. There are more black swan events–big bad stuff that no one predicted.

Despite broken politics, ineffective governance and bad surprises, new tools are powering a global learning revolution. Internet search and cheap devices means two billion people can learn just about anything and connect to the idea economy. After decades of neglect, $2 billion of venture investment flowed into EdTech startups last year. Foundations are supporting the development of new learning environments. School districts are ditching textbooks and phasing a digital conversion. Thoughtful blended learning implementations are producing promising results.

Below we recapped 30 relevant trends. The second table is a set of Judo instructions for impact investors and edupreneurs interested in leveraging some of those trends.

Trends Creating Opportunities & Challenges for U.S. Schools

Demands More poverty, English learners & special needs; broader & more demanding expectations
Students Diverse, distracted, undisciplined; tolerant, enterprising & hyphenated
Employment Increasing ROI on competence & initiative; expanding certification & alt signaling
Formative Toward continuous feedback in most subjects, background data collection
Politics Anti-federal; core unraveling, back to unique state standards
Authentic Focus on engagement, more performance assessment, deeper learning
Curriculum More free/open content & tools; more smart/adaptive content
Data More recommendation engines driving playlists; dynamic scheduling
Summative Half of state tests will be unique, no comparability; end of week long tests in sight
Access Toward high access; schools purchasing devices (particularly web appliances); students bringing mobile devices to school (BYOD)
Strategies Schools adopting personalized and blended learning strategies
Gamification More learning games & game-based strategies built into apps/systems
Competency Slow trend toward show what you know, progress on mastery
Systems Shift to ubiquitous cloud computing (basic SIS & HRIS systems still suck)
Engagement More project-based learning; focus on growth mindset
Investment Growing VC & philanthropic spend on tools & next gen models
Tools App explosion, many freemium, weak interoperability
Assistive More assistive tech meeting special needs
Schools Long trend toward platform-centric networks
Platforms Slow shift from LMS to interoperable app ecosystems
Connections More CTE and work-based options
Guidance Personalized counseling & guidance, virtual mentoring, informed decision support
Budget Tight in most state; squeezed by health & justice; toward weighted, flexible, portable funding
Options More schools of choice, access to FT & PT online learning
Conditions More teams & better support for teachers; more model variety
Careers More options for educators; growth in remote teaching/services
Prep & PD Toward blended, personalized, competency-based preparation and development
HigherEd Declining ROI on 2nd tier degrees; more flexible, affordable competency-based options; more dual enrollment opportunities
Postsec More job linked non-degree programs: code school, business skills
Productivity Developed world need to do more with less; low cost models in developing world

Big Impact Opportunities

Demands Vocabulary development & language acquisition tools (e.g., Ellevation, Newsela, Rosetta Stone); blended humanities
Students Youth and family support systems
Employment Badging, certification & alternative signaling systems
Politics Sponsor innovative alternative (e.g. ReSchool Colorado)
Formative Tools/standards for combining multiple sources of formative assessment
Authentic R&D on writing feedback tools
Curriculum Build and share open content
Data Build/sponsor a data system, host a data competition
Summative Sponsor/build innovative competency-based state measurement system
Access Sponsor state matching fund to support 1:1 take home devices
Strategies Sponsor/develop innovative blended learning school
Gamification Game platform with a viable business model
Competency K-12 badge system to manage competency-based progress
Systems Build a decent HRIS
Engagement Sponsor project/module authoring (e.g., LDC); support adoption of PBL platform
Investment Advocate for investment that improves access and equity
Tools Build/sponsor a portable LMS companion
Assistive More assistive tech meeting special needs
Schools Sponsor a platform-centric network (e.g., New Tech Network)
Platforms Sponsor an interoperable app ecosystems; Build/sponsor smart demand
Connections Sponsor CTE network (e.g., GPS Education Partners)
Guidance Build/sponsor personalized counseling & guidance systems
Budget Advocate for weighted, flexible, portable funding
Options Advocate for quality options
Conditions Pilot environments that provide better conditions & supports for teachers
Careers Build/support portable micro-credentialing system
Prep & PD Sponsor a teacher PD marketplace
HigherEd Sponsor affordable competency-based option (e.g., College for America)
Postsec More job linked non-degree programs: code school, business skills
Productivity Developed low cost models (e.g., Bridge International)


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

Brian Silberberg

This is a great list to conceptualize all of the useful tools being used to shake up the education game in America. At Books That Grow we're committed to being a part of just that. Our app provides a library of reading materials, each of which can be read across multiple reading levels, to ensure all students can have their needs accommodated simultaneously. See more at http://www.booksthatgrow.com/

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