Cautious Optimism vs Irrational Exuberance in Digital Learning

My view about the potential for education technology to produce dramatic improvements across our K-12 system, particularly for low income students, is one of cautious optimism. I am optimistic enough that I have devoted the last two years of my life to investing in blended learning models at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will happily continue do so, but I am cautious in the sense that I want to see results at scale before I make sweeping claims. I contrast this hopeful, but measured, perspective with what I view as a rising tide of irrational exuberance (thanks Alan Greenspan), which I define as overpromising future performance without an existing evidence base to support those claims. To that end, below is a list of what excites me and makes me nervous about the emerging digital learning movement:

What Excites Me

  • Learning models that are designed to personalize learning experiences for each student, every hour of every day (regardless of whether they incorporate technology or not)
  • The emergence of new blended learning models that optimize the balance between teacher and technology-facilitated instruction (see Next Gen Learning Challenges: Wave IIIa winners et al)
  • The potential for learning models to become so efficient and effective at teaching core literacy and math skills that teachers and schools have ample time to focus on other important areas that they may now neglect – project-based learning, art, music, sports, field trips, early college programs and the like
  • The possibility that providers like Khan Academy will accelerate the move away from a system built upon outdated notions of courses, grade levels and seat time toward mastery-based progressions (i.e. students move to the next lesson as soon as they prove they know the previous one)
  • Blurring the lines between informal and formal learning with initiatives like Mozilla’s Open Badges so that students can receive credit for mastery regardless of where they learned it
  • Rapid and continuous improvement cycles for digital content that are driven by sophisticated learning analytics
  • The ability to provide all students and families with a full suite of online courses and supplemental digital content from multiple providers, with transparency about prior student performance, at no cost
  • Charter school networks like Rocketship Education that are built to scale rapidly without sacrificing high performance
  • The emergence of model/technology/consulting partners like New Classrooms, JunyoEducation Elements and 2Revolutions that assist schools and networks in making the transition to new models
  • Rapidly declining cost of devices and internet access makes anytime, anywhere access to technology available to more students

What Makes Me Nervous

  • Schools and networks that cram expensive technology into the existing factory model without rethinking their core instructional practices
  • The lack of useful data to support schools and networks in making informed purchasing decisions about content and courseware
  • Outdated policies, rules and regulations that prevent schools and networks from implementing thoughtful approaches to blended learning
  • Implementations of technology that increase demands on teacher time as opposed to making it easier for teachers to be more effective
  • When pure online programs, particularly full-time virtual schools, are sold as viable schooling options for undeserved students who need services they cannot offer
  • State policy that does not regulate and reward online course providers based on independently verified student outcomes (e.g. valid, reliable and trusted 3rd party assessments)
  • Online initiatives that are operationally efficient but do not serve students well (e.g. many online credit recovery programs)
  • Technology overload for kids

4 thoughts on “Cautious Optimism vs Irrational Exuberance in Digital Learning

  1. Pingback: A Prediction (and a Word of Caution) about Scaling Blended Learning in Elementary Schools « Maximize Potential by Scott Benson

  2. Pingback: A Prediction (and a Word of Caution) about Scaling Blended Learning in Elementary Schools « Maximize Potential by Scott Benson

  3. Pingback: The new personalized blended learning mascot is … « Maximize Potential by Scott Benson

  4. Pingback: My Advice to Education Entrepreneurs at Harvard | Maximize Potential by Scott Benson

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