Pandemic education has highlighted the need for learning platforms that reliably support rich in-person and distance learning experiences. This accelerated the shift from a teacher as an individual practitioner to a learning facilitator as a member of a school as a service team.
Adding video conferencing to the edtech stack was a very important additional capability in 2020. But it has encouraged many schools to attempt a poor video version of the traditional distance schooling (often a well-intentioned effort to comply with outdated policies).
The pandemic has clarified the desirability of exciting new sequences of learning experiences supported by new learning platforms with interoperability agreements to allow learner records to move from place to place by braiding individual, team, cohort and community experiences in a dynamic way that facilitates individual progress.
Succeeding in this co-construction of tools and experiments is more complicated than designing an MNA vaccine, but it could also improve the life trajectories of billions of people.
There are 10 design changes that represent an opportunity in the learner experience and supporting learning tools.
From registration to invitation. What if instead of a tedious sign-up process there was an invite to learn, an invitation as welcoming to an Apple Store or as intuitive as gradual sign-up on Amazon where recent views on a device are integrated? in recommendations on another? What if the interests, strengths and values expressed were guided by learning opportunities?
From topics to skill sprints. What if instead of enrolling in math and English classes, learners entered personalized workshop environments (physical and / or virtual) that facilitated skill sprints allowing for focused practice supported by recommendations from experience and automated feedback systems punctuated by periodic demonstrations of mastery?
From course registration to dynamic projects. What if, instead of signing up for one-year content courses, learners engaged in a series of community-related projects (some individuals, some teams, several co-constructed) that developed and demonstrated leadership and problem-solving skills? What if these projects were informed by exposure to community needs and #GlobalGoals?
From test to integrated measurement. What if, instead of stopping for periodic testing, an assessment was built into skill sprints and projects? What if the measurement mostly occurs in the background and appears as useful feedback in real time and during periodic reflection?
From inclusion to mobile hosting. What if, instead of just being included, learners had portable amenities that appeared in every instance of learning they experienced (e.g., learning preferences, reading aids, reading aids? communication)?
From intervention to integrated support. What if, instead of responding to a crisis, the platforms help monitor well-being and equip pedagogical advisers with early warning systems and support integrated school and community support?
From grades to diplomas. What if, instead of idiosyncratic notes (a combination of commentary, attendance, and extra credit games), learners were periodically given portable digital credentials that reflected demonstrated fluency? What if portable credentials were unlocked, allowing learning anywhere and anytime?
From course lists to portfolios. What if, instead of a transcript as a list of successful courses, learners had credentials that certified learning and were linked to curated portfolios that reflected their best work?
From owner to laptop. What if, instead of information trapped in a dozen edtech apps, entire records combined snippets of data into a synthesized view (eg, persistence measured across 10 tasks across four apps over a week)?
From common to staff and local. What if, instead of a standardized set of tips and experiences, platforms and counselors were equipped to recommend next steps and post-secondary plans based on personal and local opportunities (e.g., One Day MLK, a local internship, an emerging cluster of high-paying jobs)?
Towards a complete technology stack for the learner
We have a stack of tools designed for schools that we didn’t have the schools we need. Most tools support age cohorts in content-focused courses organized around small tasks and culminating in notes in letters. This 130 year old obsolete model often results in low engagement and collaboration, low integration and application, low differentiation and low depth of knowledge, and low option and portability. This leaves learners unprepared to deal with ambiguity and complexity and unable to describe what they know and can do.
Why are we stuck? In short, there is a low expressed demand for something different and better due to a tangle of federal, state, and local policies intertwined with higher employment contracts and access requirements. Edtech business models are based on closed systems and proprietary data. Add in some teaching traditions (and license and preparation) and idealized parenting memories and you’ve got a nasty knot.
The problem is no longer the lack of access to venture capital funding, but much of the $ 12 billion in global venture capital funding for digital learning tools last year (up from $ 500 million dollars in 2010) was spent on test preparation and tutoring.
There are 10 examples of activities on the outskirts that combine the demand for new and better tools. We could use more:
IBuilt-in tools that support personalized, project-based and skill-based learning with portable learning records are more likely to grow with less
- Federal policies that require standardized testing rather than a solid formative assessment;
- Political states that require courses and grades rather than demonstrated skills;
- The college admission requirements which are based on coursework and grade averages;
- Edtech business models that rely on item level data ownership;
Like a pandemic vaccine, the opportunity to invent powerful new learning sequences supported by new tools will require smart public-private partnerships and substantial investment. It will take more than a year but, like a vaccine, it could change the life trajectories of over a billion people. Watch for our full rundown of 20 Invention Opportunities next month.