When NGLC launched nearly five years ago, our grantees, partners, staff, advisors, and networks sought to turn what was then a fragmented landscape of separately-conceived, independently-whirring initiatives into something approaching the coherence of a field: the emerging field of technology-enabled next generation learning. To build the field of next gen learning, NGLC embarked on four strategies: investing in innovation, building a knowledge base, enabling communities of next gen learning practice, and accelerating adoption.
The 2015 K-12 Edition of the NMC Horizon Report, released by NMC and CoSN at the ISTE Conference last week, suggests that a next gen learning field has indeed emerged and that next gen learning practices are the key drivers of ed-tech adoption in the next five years.
The Horizon Report has three sections: key trends accelerating tech adoption, significant challenges impeding tech adoption, and ed-tech adoptions on the horizon. In each section, you will find the imprint of the learning technologies and personalized learning models that have been pioneered by NGLC grant recipients over the last five years. At the same time, one of the features I love about this report is its international focus. Next gen educators here in the U.S. should take note of what they can learn from education across the globe in this report. (Just last week, NGLC’s Andy Calkins walked away from an educationally-minded trip to Finland with an incredible sense of inspiration and practical solutions.)
Ed-Tech on the Horizon
Of the six educational technologies cited in the report to be widely adopted over the next five years, makerspaces, adaptive learning technologies, and digital badging are the most apparent in NGLC schools. (The other three are Bring Your Own Device, 3D printing, and wearable technology.)
According to the report, the growth of blended learning and STEAM learning will drive ed-tech adoption in the next one to two years. When NGLC launched its investments in breakthrough school models in 2012, you could probably count on one hand the number of schools using blended learning school-wide. Today, the numbers are in the hundreds, and NGLC helped launch a good number of them. Last month, we announced 49 additional schools joining the 41 we already funded via our city-based strategy called the Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools. You’ll find early STEAM adoption in the STEAM Academy in Lexington, Kentucky, but also in school models that embrace interdisciplinary learning, like the Workshop School in Philadelphia and Epic Charter School in Oakland, California.
The report identifies four mid- and long-term trends: students as creators rather than consumers, collaborative learning, deeper learning, and rethinking how schools work. See how students create with technology at Magnolia Montessori for All and check out collaborative learning in action at Thrive Public Schools. Deeper learning is a core tenet throughout NGLC efforts, in K-12 and higher ed: from The Drafting Board, an online civic education game from iCivics, and U-Pace, a tech-enabled, self-paced, mastery-based instructional approach pioneered at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s department of psychology, to the experiential-focused school models at Summit Public Schools and Danville Independent Schools.
And rethinking how schools work? NGLC has been working to answer this question since its inception. The Horizon Report mentions NGLC grant recipient, Da Vinci Schools, but a quick glance through the NGLC breakthrough school model profiles shows how uniquely bold all of the schools’ models are, the kind of rethinking that will inspire your own innovations. Check out RETHINK, a toolkit we created with iNACOL, for guiding questions, resources, and tools to plan and design your own next generation learning program, initiative, or school. By the way, we see lots of evidence that this trend of rethinking schools will shape ed-tech adoption, as the report suggests—we are finding out that new models require new kinds of ed-tech tools. NGLC grantees have been working directly with tech companies and sometimes leading their own efforts to create the ed tech tools they need.
The report highlights creating authentic learning opportunities and integrating technology in teacher education as solvable challenges. Difficult challenges with elusive solutions are personalizing learning and rethinking the roles of teachers. Scaling teaching innovations and teaching complex thinking are wicked challenges that are too complex to even define, according to the report.
But NGLC grantees have advice to share to help us address these challenges. Their advice comes from their personal experiences grappling with these real challenges.
Authentic learning opportunities: At the Incubator School, all students launch a startup, just one example of “real-world” learning and application at the school. Venture Academy and Vertus Charter School are two other examples of schools that promote active career preparation and applied learning.
Tech in teacher education: Grantees are taking solutions to this challenge one step further. Not only do teachers need to be trained in using tech for instruction and in teaching digital media literacy, they need that training within new school models. Both Piedmont City Schools and Valor Collegiate Academy have partnered with local universities to bridge the professional training gap for tech-enabled next gen learning.
Personalizing learning: The ed-tech marketplace has not caught up with personalized learning approaches developed and used by NGLC grantees. The big challenge with personalizing learning, though, is providing it for every student in every school. NGLC grants were awarded in part based on scalability and sustainability, and we are beginning to see wider adoption within the six regions participating in the Regional Funds for Breakthrough Schools. When the marketplace catches up, a refined and more effective form of personalized learning, built off the efforts of NGLC grantees and others embracing the approach, just may be able to take off like wildfire.
Rethinking teacher roles: The instructional team at Cornerstone Health + Technology High School is staffed by rigor, relevance, and relationship managers. Teacher teams at Ingenuity Prep loop with cohorts of students across grade-level bands (e.g., grades 3-5). At Foundations College Prep, a master teacher partners with a resident teacher to target instruction in a flexible blended learning classroom and to support professional learning.
Complex thinking: The report distinguishes complex thinking from design thinking and aligns it more with computational thinking, which might come from teaching coding, computer science, data visualization, analytics and data science. The most direct links to NGLC school models are CODE Aspire and Caliber Schools.
Scaling teaching innovations: Summit Public Schools has a unique, yet perhaps the most viable, solution to scale. The charter organization is committed to open educational resources—creating them and using them. They started Summer of Summit to provide professional development to their own teachers as well as teachers across the country. They just launched Summit Basecamp this summer to support schools to develop their own next gen learning models using the expertise and open-source tech resources that Summit has developed. In another effort, Thrive Public Schools has partnered with National University to offer a four-course certificate program for educators passionate about learning next gen pedagogy. This challenge may not be as wicked as the Horizon Report claims it is, after all.