A new white paper from the Center of Promise addresses the rapidly changing world of what students need to learn and be able to do to compete in a global economy. This report notes that the fastest growing area of digital learning for K-12 students is single district online programs that offer students web-based supplemental or blended learning classes while attending traditional schools.
Blended learning, one of the most common models of digital education, has several key features that support 21st century learners:
- Learning extends beyond the traditional school day
- Learning transcends the classroom and occurs in other places
- Students make choices tailored to their specific learning need
- Students advance through the content according to their ability
Technology research demonstrates student engagement and other measures of efficacy. Digital learning is important because, “Digital tools help to promote these goals by facilitating student-centered, personalized learning practices, which are flexible and responsive to young people’s learning needs and interests, enable them to progress at their own pace to master core competencies, and maximize opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.”
To realize the full potential of digital learning, schools must depend on broadband and wireless capacity to deliver online curriculum, tools, and functionality. Video streaming is a major tool for K-12 classrooms, for example, and it requires ample bandwidth for teachers to access it dependably. Content, services, and tools are now being enabled with cloud-based computing, which also requires high-speed connectivity.
What This Looks Like in Practice
The remainder of this report features case studies of five forward-facing school districts from across the country. As is often true, hearing real stories of how educators accomplish their goals can be instructive and inspiring. The featured districts:
- Mobile County Schools (Alabama) uses BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to transition to a 21st century skills learning model.
- Lewisville Independent School District (Texas) pioneers the right device at the right time to use technology to learn and create while collaborating with other learners around the world.
- San Jose Unified (California) tackles the opportunity gap by designing and implementing a system-wide plan developed by a diverse group of stakeholders to close this gap and ensure that all students possess 21st century skills.
- West Allis-west Milwaukee schools (Wisconsin) has totally revamped their district by redesigning their physical spaces and even combining multiple grades for a blended learning and student-centered environment they call Next Generation Learning (NxGL).
- Elizabeth Forward School District (Pennsylvania) is pursuing several large technology initiatives including The Dream Factory, which is based on the maker model and puts resources such as a robotics lab, 3-D printers, laser engravers, wood benches, and a video production room at the disposal of middle schools students to explore and create.
These are not the only districts experimenting with new models of digital learning and skill development fueled by technology. The good news is that there are many pockets of innovation across the country. It is in these district deep dives that we see how visionary and collaborative partnerships can change and reform public education so that it works for every student. The primary challenge to creating programs like these in every district is adequate bandwidth and wireless connectivity. Once these are in place, we will see many more new models of digital learning in K-12.