Connecting dots of digital learning

Converging Trends and Opportunities of K12 EdTech

Seattle-based MIT Enterprise Forum of the NorthWest is one of 28 chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum. Strategic business reviews are the primary focus of discussion for Enterprise Forum programs. The forum held in Seattle, Washington on November 13th, 2012 focused on educational technologies. Based on the published content of the panel moderator, Frank Catalano, and from background research and interviews conducted with teachers, entrepreneurs, and business and thought-leaders in the educational technology space, a document was published. (pdf file)

This companion paper provides an overview of K-12 education in America, with an emphasis on the role of technology. It begins with a summary of converging trends and continues with a discussion of the opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors, as well as the potential threats and obstacles they face. And finally, because edtech continues to grow and evolve, it concludes with a brief discussion of the future of technology in education.

According to the summary, the converging trends in K-12 education are as listed here.

Common Learning Standards : Common learning standards are currently being developed or updated for mathematics, English, science, arts, languages and social studies.

Multi-State and National Digital Learning Initiatives : Three foundation- or association-driven initiatives are crucial.

  • Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) is spearheaded by the Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons. It provides a taxonomy to consistently tag digital learning content so it can be easily found in web search by teachers.
  • Learning Registry (LR) originated from the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense. It provides a structured index—not a repository—of digital educational content from various free and paid sources. It can present a visual map of available content directly in a browser or from within other tools. That makes things easier for teachers to find, in one place, related content and lesson plans by subject, grade level or other criteria. As an index, it can be replicated in real-time across the web in copies called “nodes.” One key point: the Learning Registry recognizes LRMI tags. It also applies other kinds of tags to content, reflecting how the content is used and how it might be rated by teachers.learning registry
  • Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI) was instigated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is driven by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation under the aegis of the Shared Learning Collaborative. The SLI provides a data warehouse in the cloud for all kinds of student data, and links that data through Common Core standards to digital educational content. Key fact to remember here: the SLI does not store digital learning content. It only stores data (assessment, behavior, attendance, standards mastered, etc.). The content part of SLI is actually a bunch of pointers to content from SLI’s node of the Learning Registry and/or that may be identified with LRMI tags. And, importantly, the SLI has open APIs that let edtech products interact with the student data and content info, critical for layering on data analytics, personalization engines or other learning apps that interact with what SLI stores.

The Move to Digital Content : In the K-12 environment, however, there are “too few schools exploiting digital instructional content for all of its benefits,” according to a report by the State Educational Technology Directors Organization, or SETDA, and entitled Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,

“The gap is widening between what technology allows us to do in our lives—how we communicate, work, learn, and play—and how we’re educating our kids.” Nonetheless, the report continues, “it is not a question if the reimagining of the textbook will permeate all of education, but only a matter of how and how fast.”

According to the SETDA report, “22 states have introduced either definitional or funding flexibility, launched a digital textbook initiative, and/or launched an OER initiative.” But, other important issues include intellectual property rights, the need for sustainable funding for devices and internet connectivity, teacher and administrator buy-in, and sustained professional learning for teachers.

Open Educational Resources : Schools have been moving away from content that is structured linearly and captured in all-inclusive books with predetermined progressions. Digital instructional content, too, is shifting away from approaches that simply break comprehensive digital textbooks into smaller parts. Newer forms of instructional content often begin with a scattered landscape of digital chunks that are then assembled to support full courses. Encouraging the acceleration of such chunky digital content, in large part, is the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement.

And the perception that quality content is available for only the cost of labor has led many school districts and teachers to try OER during difficult budget times. Spurred by entrepreneurs and fueled by funding from the likes of the Gates and Hewlett Foundations, there’s simply a lot more digital content on the web than there used to be. Examples include Khan Academy videos and materials from NASA. And furthermore, discoverability of OER is greatly enhanced by Learning Registry and Learning Resource Metadata Initiative.

Consumerization and Rapid Adoption Cycles : Call it the consumerization of education technology. Schools have adopted iPads with lightning speed. More than 1.5 million have been distributed to students a mere two years after the original iPad launch. Something different, fluid, with less domain separation and more immediate influence. Altogether, it likely represents an unprecedented convergence of K-12, higher education and consumer technology.

1:1 Computing Programs : The massive potential for 1:1 computing models for transforming education is recognized, but one point is emphasized:

“Across the four empirical studies, it is evident that teachers play an essential role in the effective implementation of 1:1 initiatives and that the onus of responsibility for implementation often falls to the teacher.” One of the studies concluded that it is ‘impossible to overstate the power of individual teachers in the success or failure of 1:1 computing.’

iPad Apps for learning

Opportunities exist to leverage existing and new trends and to combine them in evolutionary and even revolutionary ways. Watch out the following areas.

  • Mobile Devices, Apps, Collaborative Environments, the Cloud and Beyond
  • Granular Digital Content : There is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to reimagine digital content.
    • Too often, creating digital content is developed by simply breaking down a textbook or entire digital text into smaller pieces. Aside from the fact that this approach generally requires teachers to find, assemble and maintain such content, the result doesn’t necessarily provide a richer or more engaging experience for students. It may be better than its pre-built counterparts, but only marginally so.
  • Market Forces : The walls that used to slow new instructional technology’s adoption in education are falling.

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, an entrepreneur or an investor, you’ll by affected—directly or indirectly—by these and other changes in American education.

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  1. An Ed-Tech Guide for Teachers and Technologists | Classroom Aid
  2. 12 Must Read Papers on Digital Learning(2012) | Classroom Aid

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