I was recently invited by the European Union to be part of an international advisory board on virtual schools. There are about as many virtual schools in the United States as there are in the rest of the world – about 250 in the U.S., and about 250 smattering the globe. In the U.S., online learning has grown faster than any other innovation in K-12 education, at about 30% annually – a rise from 50,000 enrollments in online courses in 2000 to more than 4 million in 2011.
Education is focused around the globe on helping students gain the skills and competencies to be globally-competitive, creative thinkers, problem-solvers and designers of their (and our) future. Online and blended learning is emerging as a key strategy for getting that done.
For example, in 2006, I met Shantanu Prakash from EduComp in India when he was on a panel in California discussing how India’s government had a goal to provide universal access to K-12 education for all children in India. In order to do that, they’d need to build 200,000 new brick and mortar schools – which they couldn’t afford to do. Instead, they developed a partnership where EduComp was to benchmark “world-class” educational/academic standards and digitize the content. They would then seek and train the best teachers to teach using digital learning. In August 2011, I was on a panel with Shantanu and asked him how expanding education through EduComp and online learning was going. He said that in five years they are reaching 12 million students through “anytime, everywhere” online learning models in schools, community centers, and learning centers.
The scale of how high-quality online learning can level the playing field for all students is astronomical and opens possibilities for solving our pressing inequities in education. I believe this is a civil rights issue for all children in the United States to have access to the best teachers. We have some significant challenges.
I believe can we can overcome some significant barriers, such as our current seat-time/time-based system that advances students into higher grade levels without achieving proficiency in previous grades. (Note: at this recent EU event, when I mentioned seat-time as the foundation for most U.S. schools to receive funding, I was met with comments from my European colleges that this “was insane.”)
Yes, we can and should fund schools per student – but we also should rethink our models so that students progress through grade levels only after they’ve achieved competency or mastery. And we should reward schools that have a proven record of helping individual students grow their skills – especially those students who struggle the most.
I believe we must start insisting on competency-based systems of learning – where student-centered personalized learning is the focus. And I believe we can get there through the transformation of the educational system, using online and blended learning to rapidly advance what is possible through personalizing learning. It is happening around the world. Why not here? We can and should innovate our way to a better education for all children in the United States.
I started this blog so that you could share in the journey I am on – that we are on together – to map the new course of what is possible for our children everywhere. Along the way, I hope to enlighten readers on some of the technical aspects of online learning (such as basic definitions of terms), explain how current policies help or hinder next generation learning models, and help to broaden consideration of a variety of perspectives in the field along our journey to transform education for children.
I will leave with a question that I used to get asked as the phone would ring on a Friday night at 7:00 pm – my (late) friend and (beloved) colleague, Charlie Garten, would ask me, “Susan, what are we doing for the kids today?”
What are we doing for the kids today? Join me in my new blog as we take on the challenge of transformation and change on behalf of the kids.