The Future of Education: Highlights of the 2015 Blended and Online…
What will students need to know to thrive in the 21st century? How will educators, parents, and schools “get them there from here?” How will our education system, classrooms, and instructional methods need to change if we’re to ensure every child has the chance to reach his or her potential?
Those were the big questions driving the agenda at last week’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium. Presented by the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the annual conference brings together educators, students, and innovators to share the latest ideas in blended and online education.
Here are a few of the answers heard by Connections Academy teachers and Connections Education staff, along with the 3,100 other committed educators attending the conference.
Personalized and Competency-Based Learning
In her opening address, iNACOL President Susan Patrick described an education landscape undergoing a seismic shift toward personalized learning—a shift largely driven by research and innovations in online learning.
Patrick said, “Online learning is the core for challenging our thinking about how we deliver education at anytime, anyplace. Tools in online learning have helped drive whole new not just school models, but [also] instructional models in the classroom—shifting how we build these models around how students learn best. [We’re] taking the research on how students learn and then redesigning learning environments around [students]. This is the overarching goal of personalized learning. This is changing lives.”
In these personalized environments, Patrick said educators and schools will be able to:
- Identify gaps in students’ learning early to “meet them where they are” with learning experiences individually tailored to close those gaps.
- Help students advance based on proven mastery of content and skills rather than “seat time.”
- Redesign entire learning environments around the student, applying research on how students learn best.
- Rethink assessments, using them to guide student learning daily rather than to simply test what students have learned at a particular point in time.
- Empower students to become co-creators of their own educations so they develop a lifelong love of learning.
“Personalized learning is the key to ensuring all students graduate ready for college and careers,” said Patrick. Focused on competency and committed to equity, personalized learning can help ensure that a child who is born in poverty will not die in poverty. “Remember,” she told the attendees, “you can change the trajectory of students’ lives through the future of education.”
The Current Landscape
With online learning models and tools driving this shift to personalized learning, what is the overall status of online learning in the United States today? John Watson of the Evergreen Education Group provided some of the answers during a discussion of the latest report “Keeping Pace with K–12 Digital Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice.”
In the 2014–2015 school year, Watson reported that:
- Nearly all schools in the United States used online learning at some level. Traditional public schools were the largest users of online learning.
- The majority of full-time online students attended online charter schools in 25 states. Of those, according to the report, 46% were in grades 9–12, 28% were in grades 6–8, and 26% were in grades K–5.
- An estimated 2.7 million students took 4.6 million online supplemental courses from state virtual schools and other suppliers.
- A representative sample shows the majority of those supplemental courses (73.9%) were in core subject areas whereas 26.1% were in electives and other areas.
An Annual Review of Policy and Practice, 12th ed. (2014, p. 17).
Education Reimagined with Students at the Center
Can an education system that was created in the industrial age simply be “tweaked” to serve students in the digital age?
In the final session of the symposium, participant leaders from the Education Reimagined Project answered the above question with a resounding no—arguing that our education system cannot be merely reformed. It must be entirely transformed, with students at the center of every learning experience.
Kelly Young, director of the project for the nonprofit Convergence, explained that Education Reimagined was an 18-month process involving 28 education leaders and practitioners with widely divergent views and agendas. After months of dialogue, this seemingly disparate group emerged with a common vision for education in the United States where learning is:
- Competency-based and structured to support students in mastering knowledge, skills, and dispositions at their individual pace
- Personalized, relevant, and contextualized to engage individual interests, address learning gaps, and adapt to the circumstances in students’ individual lives and communities
- Activating “learner agency” in every student—harnessing students’ intrinsic motivation to learn
- Socially embedded into the fabric of students’ lives and their relationships with family, peers, and communities
- Open-walled to leverage learning opportunities in diverse communities, settings, and formats—from volunteer service to local recreational activities
Panelists Gisele Huff, executive director of the Jacquelin Hume Foundation, and Becky Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association, were Education Reimagined participants who admittedly came to the process ready to “defend their turf.” Yet they emerged as colleagues with mutual respect and a common vision.
The learner-centered vision, said Huff, recognizes that in order “to help our kids get through the 21st century … we have to make [them] love learning intrinsically and for themselves and to give them the tools to develop what they need within themselves to take charge [of their own learning].”
As the 3,100 attendees prepared to return to their schools and classrooms, Pringle rallied them to “own responsibility for the change that must happen in the system of education. … We’re not driving this train; we’re asking you to join it.”
What do you think; can personalized online learning drive a fundamental shift in the way all students in the United States learn? If so, what will tomorrow’s schools and classrooms look like? Check out how some young minds envision the future of school, and then share your thoughts below.