IntroductionsAs is always the case in the technology sector--and educational technology is no different--there are always lots of buzz words and the positing that some idea is completely new rather than a reinterpretation or refinement of what came before. Today we’re going to explore how emerging education models aren’t really all that new, but rather learners themselves, not just technology, are driving their actual application in the real world—and what this means to designing solutions for learners now and in the future.
Let’s start by taking a look at the past a bit.Education being delivered beyond classroom walls in any sort of scale in the United States likely began as a result of the Morrill Act of 1862.This established land grant institutions whose missions had to include serving rural and underrepresented populations in ways that benefit the greater society—which at the time meant agriculture and mining. Over time, that broadened to mean serving underrepresented populations more broadly, and even private universities started to describe their missions to be inclusive of communities as well.Besides classes in extension offices, these institutions started to offer correspondence courses. Learners were sent books, and had opportunities to submit activities and receive feedback and grades by mail.By the 1940s, these distance learning courses started to incorporate films and filmstrips in order to make the materials more engaging than just reading books. These films were often mailed, but were sometimes even air-dropped in remote areas. Learners still interacted with their educators primarily through mail.Satellite and phone technology drove changes to distance learning starting in the 1970s. This was a big leap because finally there could be real-time interaction between learners and educators, but also between students. The courses became time structured again more similar to a classroom experience. When I started high school in a rural community, we had only a Spanish and a German teacher. But we could take French, Japanese, or any number of other language courses delivered via satellite and phone bridge from a larger school district. Signing up for the course meant signing up for a technology-enabled room in the media center. The major disadvantages of this approach was cost. These technologies were expensive and not scalable. They were also time- and location-bound. You had to go to where the tech was.The 90s bring us the web. This was a rapid change in delivering education beyond the walls of the classroom. It was significantly lower cost than satellite technologies. It could still support learner/educator and learner/learner interaction. It was not location-bound, and also allowed for time-shifted learning. Some initial drawbacks were that real-time interactions were fairly limited, and most people didn’t have the bandwidth for richer and more engaging materials. Improvements in bandwidth diminished those challenges over time.So now we get to MOOCs and Open Educational Resources. Let’s start first by talking about MOOCs. It’s certainly been one of the big recent topics in education. Many have positioned it as being a totally new and different thing than what’s come before. I would argue that it’s simply a technology-driven evolution of what has come before. In this case, the change has resulted in 1) growth in scale. MOOCs have tools and pedagogical approaches intended for educating tens of thousands of students rather than 50. 2) Efficiency – MOOCs are an experimental grounds for trying out methods and technologies for efficiency. Various MOOCs are experimenting with automating and scaling the grading of essays through so-called robo-grading. Whether you agree or disagree with this philosophically, the experimentation in efficiency continues.Before talking about OERs and global reach, I’m going to pause here for a moment and go back and look at what drove these changes. We saw the establishment of service to community as a common mission for educational institutions. Over time, all of these changes were still about the institutions finding new ways to fulfill THEIR stated missions more effectively. And in each case through the time line, it was changes in technology that drove the change……until we get to Open Educational Resources. Here, the work of the Creative Commons was the biggest driver. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization working globally to help define the means and legal frameworks for sharing and re-using resources. Prior to Creative Commons, the situation was this. Either a curriculum designer had to build an educational resource or use a copyrighted resource. Generally, use of a copyrighted resource could be used under certain circumstances in the United States under fair use guidelines—which wasn’t a law per se, but rather a framework for legal defense. The Digital Millennium Act temporarily caused some concern about a change in this framework but was later re-clarified by Congress. But fair use required that the learner have an explicit relationship to the education institution—not helpful for openness or sharing beyond national borders or using works created outside of the United States protected under other national laws.If you created your own work and had it visible to others, there wasn’t a good way to communicate to those other users that you’d like them to use it as long as they attribute it to you. Others always had to assume that anything they saw was copyrighted and not appropriate for reuse. Create Commons became a way to communicate the extent to which an item can be re-used, attributed, altered, or re-mixed. The led to OERs and OERs fueled the possibility for MOOCs with a global reach. And while, yes, Creative Commons has a technology component to make the license level machine readable, most of their work is on the standard and legal framework, as well as working with national governments worldwide to align the standard to global legal frameworks.Increasingly, grants for creating curriculae, whether they be from private foundations or governments, are requiring all created resources become OERs. Department of Labor TAACCT grants require this. The government of Scotland just last week published a letter of intent to require the same for all funded curricular development.---------------Image creditsLeft-hand images used with permission from Microsoft image librarySouthern Methodist University vintage photo: (cc) coltera (http://www.flickr.com/photos/christianspenceranderson/6259370824/); image cropped
The current drivers for institutions still are mostly technological.Continued growth in online and mobile will drive more opportunities for broader reach and service in alignment with institutional missions.Technology, people, and process are aligning finally in order to start to use big data to make planning decisions, improve processes and curriculum, and identify and retain students at riskAnd OERs, emerging effective translation engines, and an emerging global middle class are creating more opportunities for more potential students and more educational experiences that are global
BUT, there’s another driver that’s causing change, and it’s creating more learner-driven change. And this driver isn’t technological.Between the growth in cost to individuals for higher education and the Great Recession, we’ve reached a point where, for many people, the investment in a degree may not return that value in income. The direct costs as well lost opportunity costs (not working for several years) can surpass a ¼ million dollars. Potential students are looking for a more economical means to access upward mobility and are driving huge consumer-driven changes in higher education.
Post-traditional learners are now the norm—not the non-traditional learnerAdult, part-time and other post-traditional learners are already a clear majority in higher education. K-12 will also see increases in English language learners and other groups that have traditionally been underserved by the current system. This is also playing out globally.traditional students, meaning those that attend four-year schools and live on campus, make up only 15 percent of today’s undergraduate students. The remaining 85 percent, or about 15 million students, are post-traditional learners: adults, parents, low-income students and workers trying to change or advance their careers.
Just to reinforce this point, here we see what was the traditional student journey. Pick an institution and a degree, take some courses, maybe change your degree. Build your resume, graduate, get a job. Perhaps at some point, go to graduate school.
Today’s learning experience is changing rapidly. First, employers are actively working with local institutions to define the skills needed for those jobs so the students are a better match for their hiring immediately upon graduation. The US Department of Labor has implemented a competency model across industries called ONET that is being used as a framework for these efforts. The Dept of Labor is currently distribution $2 Billion dollars in grants to community colleges to specifically implement programs where learning outcomes are clearly articulated and aligned to the skills needed by local industries. The EU has their own competency model – The European Dictionary of Skills and Competences – wonderfully, or perhaps tragically, called DISCO.And more and more frequently, employees will take individual courses to gain skills or seek certification from a certification body rather than go to graduate school.Students are taking courses from multiple institutions or even earning micro-credentials from other learning providers. For example, why take that ridiculously-dated COBOL or BASIC course at the local college when you can earn a digital badge in HTML5 from Mozilla for free? It’s certainly more applicable to the workplace.
Learner drivers go beyond the technological. As we’ve already seen, their lives mean that they have different needs than they have in the past. Their experiences with other services mean they expect solutions that are personal to them at the time and in the place they want to have them. The cost factors of education have led them to demand and look for real alternatives and different ways to have evidence of skills and knowledge. They expect information about their skills, their experiences, and their learning to be able to benefit them. All of these things together mean student expect a learner-centric education, not one structured around institutional missions, drivers, or process simplicity.
Online and mobile platforms will support nearly all forms of education in some way: as online education gains greater acceptance and goes mainstream, education institutions will rely heavily on technology to compete, to build capacity and to better meet growing demand and changing preferences of learners. Stat: the percentage of online enrollments in higher ed has TRIPLED since 2003. Online now represents over 32 percent of all enrollments. And that’s a 10X growth rate compared to traditional enrollments.
So what are some models that are more learner-centric? Flipped classroom is certainly one. In this model, the communication of theory and concepts takes place on an individual pace, sometimes even outside of the classroom. Class time is instead used for individual coaching, application of knowledge, or perhaps demonstration of skill. This concept isn’t new; the Saxon approach to math is a flipped scenario. Lessons are read and worked individually; the teacher coaches students individually. What is different is that 1) learners have more choice and are demanding more personalized experiences, and 2) the technology is allowing for a more engaging and personalized experience that is scalable.The concept exploration and experiential components of the model are more engaging for more types of learners. Technology allows systems to be more reactive and personal to the individual learner’s performance. Concept exploration and simulations are more engaging than reading lessons. And educators have instant access to important metrics to understand which students need what type of coaching.
Similar are changes to the way we assess student learning. Traditionally, each activity has been graded individually. I get an “A” on an assignment, perhaps evaluated by a rubric for transparency (although likely not), and a “C” on the test. This then gets put together by some sort of weighting into a final grade of “B”. But what does my “B” mean compared to someone else’s?
In competency-based learning, we can have the same assessments, but structure them in a way that provides for direct, authentic assessment. The individual criteria of evaluation are measured. The individual test questions aligned to specified competencies or learning outcomes. In the end, I can understand that with what would have been a “B”, I can see that while I can demonstrate mastery in written communication, I actually have not grasped the principles of cellular life being taught in this course!Here again, this concept isn’t new. It’s a known approach that has really only been used broadly in standardized K12 assessment. The same 2 drivers are in play. 1) yes, the technology is making it easier for educators to calculate this for any course whereas previously this was quite complex, and 2) learners demanding a personalized experience and do not want to have to do busy work for the concepts they already know and understand. They don’t have time! They want to only work on the things they need to learn.
Competency-based learning can be applied on any context and at any scale. What is emerging is a number of competency-based education programs in which skill certifications or entire degrees can be earned through a structured curriculum that uses direct, authentic assessment. A growing list of institutions such as Western Governor's University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Capella University are already growing the number of CBE options available today. The Lumina Foundation and the Gates Foundation are both investing significant grant monies into CBE.So what’s needed for CBE? First, a learner-centric experience so the student is clear about what tasks she has completed and what remains for her to do because she is on a different schedule and potentially path than other students. Second, direct, authentic, competency-based assessment. And finally, some degree of differentiation. This differentiation could be as simple as a learning coach to assist the student through her learning experience. It might include prescriptive or diagnostic evaluation to modify the learning pathway for the purposes of acceleration or remediation. Or it could even go so far as having rich, adaptive activities where how the student answers inquiry determines the response, not just whether a question was right or wrong.In the end, the learner ends up with specific measurements of demonstrated mastery of competencies and skills—a knowledge map that is far more meaningful to employers… and to the learner in determining what further learning is needed going beyond this program.
So in that context, let’s revisit this representation and focus in the places in which we measure and acquire skill, competencies, credentials, and degrees. Educational providers and other validators such as certifying bodies and employers are confirming that a learners knows and understands these things. They all then collect in the center.
Out of these needs and drivers, an empowering technology has emerged: open badges: A way for job seekers to earn and collect micro-credentials that are digitally signed and verified by learning providers, with clearly defined competency information that can be reviewed by employers. It’s an ecosystem where the individual is at the center—not the learning providers or accrediting bodies.
As we’ve seen, more of the current drivers in educational change are coming from the learners—not from educational institutions or technologies. Learners are driving the adoption of learning models that have existed for some time but were complex to implement. Technology might be making them easier to implement, but it’s learners’ growth in choice and need for alternatives that are leading us to make changes that provide a learner-centric learning experience.
EDUCATION BEYOND CLASSROOM WALLS
Student / instructor
Cost, Time and
Films and Filmstrips
Satellite + Phone Bridges
Courses on the WWW
BIG DATAONLINE &
DRIVER FOR A NEW KIND OF CHANGE
Source: “Measuring Up 2008”, the National Center for Public
Policy and Higher Education.
16-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64
US Unemployment Rates by Age Group
Percent Growth Rate in
Current Dollar Price Since 1982-84
THE OLD STUDENT JOURNEY
High School Graduate College Graduate
Competencies & Skills
Degrees and Credentials
TODAY’S LEARNING EXPERIENCE
BIG DATAONLINE &
• Simulations, games
• Community Projects
• Tests (personalized)
• Video reflections
• Content-rich websites
• Video lectures
• Personalized projects
• Creative presentations
Combine & Calculate to get a final grade
Principles of Cellular Life
Principles of Cellular Life
Combine, Review and Assess Mastery
Principles of Cellular Life
Multiple InstitutionsSkills Required
Competencies & Skills
Degrees and CredentialsAcquire Skills
THE NEW LEARNING EXPERIENCE