Digital Guide on the Side

Tanya Roscorla predicts the digital trends that will continue to grow in K–12 education in 2015 as learning becomes more student centered

Throughout these trends, you’ll find several common threads. The first is a focus on the student, and that’s especially evident in personalized learning and adaptive technology. The second is both a mark of progress and a clue that we still have a ways to go: students have access to more digital learning options than they had before, but their education options are still determined largely by where they live.

“The past decade has brought a frenzy of digital innovation to K–12 education, but as we enter 2015, I think we will start to see a shift in focus to how people and technology can best combine to positively impact learner outcomes,” says Kristen DiCerbo, principal research scientist for Pearson.

1. Personalized learning
Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, points out that we can create digital learning environments that are tailored to students’ individual needs, skill levels, and interests so that students have multiple pathways to learn.

Driver: Students need one-on-one help to learn, and a personalized learning environment is a good way to give them that opportunity with the help of technology.

2. Competency-based education
This trend puts students in the driver’s seat so they can create knowledge, analyze a situation, and produce evidence of their learning. Students move forward once they reach mastery of the concept or skills they’re working on.

Driver: Global competition puts increasing pressure on student success. Schools need to identify what students need to know and do to be successful in a globally competitive job market, according to Patrick.

3. Digital learning outcomes
John Watson, founder of the Evergreen Education Group, notes that educators, legislators, and others will expect more hard facts about whether students learn better with things like digital content or online courses.

Driver: Educators are looking for examples of success based on student outcomes to help them decide whether they want to adopt or expand digital learning.

4. Digital course access
Eleven states allow students to take individual online courses from charter schools instead of having to sign up for a state or district online school. That trend will continue as more states look for digital learning options, according to Watson.

Driver: Too many middle and high schools lack the advanced courses that students need to be accepted into colleges, so online classes help level the playing field, says Patrick, while Watson believes that instead of putting the decision for where to take a class in the school districts’ hands, states will look to families and students to make those decisions and allow a prorated amount of students’ public education funding to flow to the education providers they choose.

5. Blended and digital learning adoption at the local level
More school districts and schools are adopting digital learning such as online courses, whereas a few years ago, much of the growth happened at the state level.

Driver: Blended learning helps teachers personalize learning in a much easier and less time-consuming way, Patrick remarks. Perceived competition from online charter schools and a broader understanding and acceptance of digital learning mean that schools are interested in expanding their learning options, according to Watson.

6. Open content and educational resources
Open educational resources can help teachers personalize and improve access to learning.

Driver: With public investments for developing content and curriculum, it makes sense to create open and shareable content that others can mix with paid resources, Patrick argues.

7. Adaptive technology
Adaptive technologies help pinpoint where students are in their learning, how much of a challenge they need moving forward, and which learning pathways they can take.

Driver: The decision to personalize learning requires setting aside large amounts of time to design learning environments, coach students, and work with them one on one. Adaptive technology frees up teachers’ time and levels the playing field.

“It’s been really, really hard to focus on competency and personalized learning without powerful tools in the hands of teachers,” Patrick complains.

8. Badging
Students who demonstrate evidence of their learning will earn badges for their skills, and this digital badging system will help schools focus more on skill development.

Driver: The education system needs a better way to recognize students’ skills and come up with new ways of certifying those skills, according to Patrick.

9. Community connectivism
By connecting students with community members through internships and after-school programs, schools will help them bridge the gap between school and real life.

Driver: Educators need to make education relevant and real.

10. Mobile learning
Mobile devices are changing who has access to world-class learning and expanding learning opportunities everywhere.

Driver: Schools need to change their learning environments so that they take advantage of newer tools that are already changing how the world works.

It will be crucial to prepare leaders with the skills they need to design new learning models that take advantage of these big trends, Patrick argues. And that means conducting professional development by using these next-generation models so that educators can experience what they’re like from a learner’s perspective.

Digital learning implementation takes time, investment, effort, and planning. And no matter what piece of digital learning schools use, it will fail or succeed based on how serious a commitment administrators are willing to make.

“The key difference that we see in implementation is the level of planning and investment and leadership from administrators,” Watson says. “We know that it can work if those things are well thought through and in place, and we know that it can fail badly if those things are not in place.”

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes, and on the legislative agenda at the Center for Digital Education.