Today is Digital Learning Day, and its occurrence just a week after President Obama’s State of the Union address and his comments on education is serendipitous. Earlier this week, I wrote about the challenge presented by the President’s call for colleges and universities to decrease the cost of education and increase outcomes, including the number of graduates. In that blog, I turned for a solution to the observations of the President of the Lumina Foundation.
Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina’s President, observed that future demand for college-educated citizens and workers necessitates alternative educational paradigms if we are to decrease cost while also increasing accesss and success. Those new paradigms mean that our understanding of “quality education” must change. One very significant paradigm change is digital learning, made possible by substantial innovation to information technology.
There is a growing availability of digitial learning materials, online educational opportunities, and innovative approaches to blended learning with combinations of face-to-face teachers, digital learning materials and online educational experiences. This blog has previously observed that the variety of these digital learning alternatives is increasing in all education sectors, including primary, secondary and tertiary education.
The recent announcement by Apple of its eText authoring and class-creation tools is likely to open up and spread digitial learning beyond what we have already seen in the digital learning materials of a wide variety of companies like Pearson, Adaptive Curriculum, etc. The for-profit hgher education sector has seen very rapid growth in enrollment from non-traditional students, especially through online degrees of universities like the University of Phoenix and blended learning models from schools like Western International University. Of course, Apple’s tools are directed at primary and secondary education as well as higher education. Companies like K12 have already demonstrated the potential for and the value for online and blended learning models in the primary and secondary areas.
When I talk with parents of younger children, I find little hesitation to use an iPad in order to provide easy access to learning; the limitation these parents face is availability of software. If we are, however, to realize the full advantage of the digital revolution to learning, we must change – with the digital revolution in information technology that is occuring around us. Those changes include the following:
(1) We must alter regulation of education and recognize new metrics. Seat-time is an outmoded way of evaluating the educational experience, and we must accept, endorse and expect learning mastery based on demonstrted outcomes as the new standard. To the degree that a student can learn on her own and demonstrate mastery without the intervention of a teacher, then the whole traditional concept of education is turned upside down and teachers are no longer necessary – at least not in their current roles.
(2) We must embrace the capacity of information technology to advance further how we learn. Intelligent learning systems that are truly adaptive to the knowledge and skills of an individual learner are now possible (note Apollo Group’s acquisition of Carnegie Learning), and research and development is already undway on intelligent systems that can substitute for humans’ coaching students. Rather than moving from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side concept of the role of a teacher, we are at the advent of the development of a “guide” as an intelligent digital system.
(3) We must develop even more sophisticated systems for the assessment of learning. With the introduction of more digital learning mateials at all levels, more sophisticated assessment is essential. Along with that assessment must come better integrated feedback loops that articluate with curriculum design in ways that lead to the continuous modification of curricula.
(4) We must accept new roles for the “teacher” and more rapidly modify teacher education as we incorporate more resources to support retraining of existing teachers and the incorporation of evaluations of teachers on new dimensions of “teaching.” With ever more sophisticated digital learning, the “teacher” takes on roles of (a) super coach, (b) counselor and advisor who guides the student in a learning path, and (c) designer of curriculum and assessment.
Is digital learning perfect? Of course not, but neither is the traditional model of teacher and students. As Mr. Obama has stated, we must expect more of education if we are to compete in a global 21st century. Paradigm shifts in education will be essential, and one of the most significant ones comes from digital learning, made pssoble by continued advances in information technology.