In the past decade, our organization has evolved significantly to become a leading nonprofit organization with a deep reach into practitioners creating next-generation learning models. Our focus has grown to examine systems change and education innovation facilitating the future of learning through personalized learning and student-centered approaches to next-generation learning.
We are serving more as a thought leader and resource provider to the field of K-12 education to equip and inform practitioners and policymakers who are interested in education transformation. Next-generation learning, by definition, includes all delivery methods for learning. We have moved the field from a focus on its form to a focus on its intent and purpose.
In late 2017, our board of directors helped formalize this shift by adopting a new mission, vision, and values for the organization.
Our mission is to drive the transformation of education systems and accelerate the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all. We add an urgent call to transform our education systems so that they work for all students, regardless of background, and that they support all learners for the rapidly changing future that awaits them following K-12 education.
On October 28, 2019, we formally announced our new name at the 2019 iNACOL Symposium. The announcement followed nearly three years of research, stakeholder engagement, and developmental work.
The Journey from iNACOL to the Aurora Institute
For more than 15 years, our work has been grounded in an effort to increase educational opportunity to all learners, regardless of background or geography. In good faith, the journey has led us to uncover a need to re-imagine our education systems, to re-orient them toward student-centered learning, and better prepare young people for the future. At the root of lack of access are fundamental design flaws that privilege a few, but omit many. We need every learner equipped for our rapidly changing world, so over time our work has shifted toward policy, practice, and research endeavors to raise awareness and light a path toward systemic change.
Our Early Years
When NACOL was founded in 2002, the idea was to raise a field, through a national organization, through regular forums and meetings, that would produce knowledge on best practices for the future of teaching and learning and influence policy and advocate for changes that free up K-12 education to innovate. An online learning association, NACOL, the North American Council for Online Learning, became an umbrella for a vast collection of ideas and practices to shift the way we approach teaching and learning. We focused on the delivery method — online learning — because it contained a wealth of unparalleled and unprecedented opportunities to innovate learning environments.
In the intervening years, our work became internationally informed, which sparked our first name change in 2008, adding the letter “i” to our name. The name iNACOL has carried us and the field a mighty long way, but it has limitations that have become too significant to ignore. Despite the strong brand equity embedded in the name and the myriad partnerships and policy successes we’ve experienced under it, it’s become clear to us, with what’s at stake in the nation’s education systems — and our democracy — that the time is ripe to ensure that our name effectively represents the depth, breadth, and urgency of our work now.
Shift to Student-Centered Learning and Innovation for Equity
In 2010, iNACOL published a literature review on K-12 competency-based education. This was the first paper published in the United States since 2001 on K-12 competency-based education. The paper provided a national scan and exploration into issues around policy and practice for K-12 competency-based education. It surveyed innovators at the school, district, and state levels across the country and explored how competency-based education pathways offered a systems approach for re-engineering our nation’s education systems around mastery–a re-engineering designed for success in which failure is no longer an option.
Since then, we have published more than 100 reports on quality frameworks, emerging issues, promising practices, and policy recommendations for the field. We have unparalleled data to shine a light on the latest trends and issues in the field of K-12 education innovation and a deep reach into 15,000+ stakeholders.
Today and Beyond
Our work today is building capacity for systems change and educating policymakers on how to transform. We continue to advocate moving from ranking and sorting, the one-size-fits-all approach to education. What is needed now is a re-envisioning of education, as well as systemic alignment between K-12, higher education, and the workforce to prepare learners for what they will face in the next phase of their lives. This will require redefining student outcomes, rethinking meaningful credentials, competency-based systems, alignment, and personalized pathways, and creating an overall system “fit for purpose.” Community engagement and local wisdom in redefining success, cultural relevance, and connected pathways will be crucial.
It is critical to transform K-12 education toward a system that is fit for purpose. We need all of our students to graduate high school with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to become leaders in their communities and agents of their own success — whether in college, career, future workforce, or our communities.
And by all, we mean all.
Aurora means dawn. We are driving the transformation of education systems and shining a light on the future of learning.