There’s been a pretty constant and repeated refrain that we need reform and innovation in education to create a more equitable and inclusive learning and employment system. And it’s been believed for about the same amount of time that we will need technology to enable scale, trust and security.
Next Generation Learning, an initiative sponsored by the Bill Gates Foundation has been working on this for quite some time. Their mission is “The intelligent use of technology to develop innovative learning models and personalised educational pathways.”
LIke other similar programs, the organisation seeks to answer these questions:
- How do we better engage young people in learning and demonstrate its relevance to – real life – and their aspirations?
- How do we personalise learning to accelerate and deepen understanding and knowledge retention?
- How do we encourage persistence and completion in spite of the competing demands of students’ lives?
- How can institutions and educational systems afford improvements in student success in light of flat or declining budgets?
What’s the problem in the first place? Well, education in its current form isn’t working well, at least not everywhere. High school completion rates are at an all-time low, here in Australia and in the U.S., college enrollments have declined, and of those who do attend college, many never complete their degrees.
Is this due to a cultural shift or an decrease in the quality of education at all levels? What is going on? Well, around the world, countries, institutions, and companies have been looking for the answers. Employers need an educated workforce, and an educated workforce makes more money and in turns spurs economic health and growth.
But what kind of education does that workforce need, and how do we know that when they leave schools, they have the skills and knowledge to perform the tasks employers will expect them to? Now, and more importantly, into the future?
We’ve been talking about this for a long time here at Edalex, but it boils down to this quote by Wynton Marsalis: “There’s only one school, and that’s the school where you can play.” Can learners cross the bridge from education to employment with ease?
The answer is that we can make learning transitions easier, and that just as we have suspected all along, technology is the answer.
Tech and Learning Management Systems
The first key is to unlock the data from the systems we already use – like Learning Management Systems (LMSs), but not exactly in the way we have thought of previously. It’s not just about digitising transcripts or simplifying the grade entry process. Instead, it’s an entirely different approach that benefits institutions, educators, and learners alike.
This requires a change in thought. Assessment ideas must be revamped. “Teacher judgement is too subjective,” Elliot Washor, co-founder of the Big Picture company said recently in an interview. “Standardised tests are too narrow for most of us, and don’t work for many learners.”
Additionally, there has been a major shift towards skills outcomes over seat time, with the Carnegie foundation announcing recently that they were developing a new system where the new currency of education is based upon meaningful skills and accomplishments demonstrated through assessment. “It is increasingly clear that the knowledge, skills and dispositions needed to succeed in the 21st-century economy are not singularly demonstrated through time on task,” they assert.
The struggle is that many institutions are stuck in the, “It’s what you can test” mode vs. “It’s about what you can show or do.” This new thought process means that everything can be evaluated and added to a learner record, including work and learning done outside of school.
Technology allows us to analyse data not only on a large scale but on an individual one. “The difference is the analysis of data and input based on established criteria, that lets you look at a bigger picture,” says Washor.
What is that big picture? Essentially, it’s possible to look at the portrait of a learner through the lens of three things that are the foundation for learner success:
- 21st-century skills
- Character traits
- Social-emotional competencies
These are universal earning goals that can be understood by any school system: from public to private, from K-12 through the university level. But it’s done with the understanding that every learner is unique, and not all of them will, or are even capable of achieving the highest levels of proficiency in every area.
This aligns with the Portrait of a Graduate program gaining traction throughout school districts in the United States, but brings technology into the picture,
The principle of using technology to unlock the data and make it visible for the learning community. It;
- Aligns school operations and pedagogy to establish an individualised vision of student success
- Creates standards for mastery based on predefined criteria
- Creates a holistic approach to learning that goes beyond test scores
- Validates learning in a tangible way that is portable and shareable, separate from school records yet aligned with them
- Establishes pathways to validate outside of school learning
Technology takes potential human bias out of the competency scoring equation. An algorithm takes the data entered by the teacher, the institution, and the learner and creates a record of competencies that can be trusted, is validated, and shows a true picture of who the student is, where their strengths are, and how those can directly benefit both them and potential employers.
The Value of Immediate Visibility
One of the prime examples of this principle in action is the Credentialate partnership with the Hunter School of Performing Arts (HSPA). Together, using the latest technology, they have created 24/7 visibility over learner progress that can be accessed by the entire learning community.
Their learner dashboard shows a real time picture of how the student is doing both in relation to school standards, their peers, and their own goals. They are awarded badges, evidence of levels of competency, as they learn rather than only upon completion of a specific course or even task.
These digital badges include visibility into learning progression in Curriculum (syllabus outcomes), Cross Curriculum (soft skills such as collaboration and critical thinking), Co-curriculum, and Commitment to School Values.
The badge is updated on a regular basis according to their assessed level of competency or mastery. The student begins by being able to see all the badges that are a part of any given subject matter. They are rated from “not assessed yet” to “advanced.” The levels are defined as follows:
- Emerging – Students begin at this level until they demonstrate an increase in skills or understanding of the associated outcome
- Developing – Students move to this level when they are demonstrating some understanding or competency of the concept or skill
- Competent – Students move to this level when they understand the concept or can perform the skill and are meeting the requirements of the outcome
- Mastering – Students move to this level when they have a thorough understanding or can perform the concept, or skill consistently and confidently. Able to adapt skills into new contexts.
- Advanced – Students only move to this level when they have excelled in regard to expectations for a student in the current stage. It is rare for students to achieve this level. Students at this level should begin working towards outcomes in the next stage.
These stages are set by pre-defined criteria. As HSPA states themselves, these outcomes are not based on bell curves, vibes, or teacher opinion. They are measured against specific, and admittedly high standards of achievement.
A spider graph on the student portal shows where the student is compared to expected outcomes for where they are in their education and how they compare to their current cohort. Are they performing in line with their peers, or are they excelling beyond them? This graph is individualised by subject matter rather than a GPA style overall performance. This graph, too, is updated in real time, providing both parents and students with immediate insights.
This visibility enables teachers and parents to take action. If a student is in the emerging or developing stage and behind their cohorts, the teacher can assign corrective tasks designed to help accelerate their learning and bring them into alignment with their goals. It forms a point of communication between the learners and their parents or guardians.
If a student is in the mastering or advanced stages of competency, the instructor can offer them enrichment activities designed to lean into their clear strengths. These insights allow for individualised instruction based on data, not a feeling, and is imminently valuable.
It’s also important to understand that with this approach, both mastery and advanced levels are often not achievable by every student in every area of study. Competency is the goal, and anything beyond that is up to the student.
But the student also has full visibility of their progress, and this can inspire them to reach for more in areas where they are both able and passionate. While this system itself is unique, it can be duplicated, and in partnership with Learning Vault and Year13, Edalex offers a holistic Learner Passport solution that will make this system even more accessible. You can express your interest by clicking here.
In this system, essentially, the learner has an additional incentive to perform well. They can see where they are in relation to their peers (overall, not on an individual level) and through the badges on their dashboard can see how they can “level up”.
Because of the performance criteria behind each badge and level, the learner also knows the clear steps they can take to reach the next level. When it comes to things like the commitment to school values or even soft skills, their dashboard shows them where and how to “level up”. Co curriculum badges must be applied for, putting the initiative in the hands of the student should they want to unlock those achievements.
Much has been said and written about providing learners with self-motivation through gamification, and this is just another step in that direction. We are empowering learners to take control of their own education.
The Empowered and Confident Learner
Ideally, the desired outcome is an empowered and confident learner. Yes, this system will help institutions streamline and better structure learning outcomes to improve teacher productivity and learner visibility. It will remove administrative burden from teachers by having them only mark and provide feedback once.
And yes, it will provide 24/7 dynamic visibility for teachers, parents, and learners to improve their chances of success in individual subjects and enable intervention when needed before a student fully finds themselves behind and struggling.
But ultimately, the learner is empowered to take control of their own learning. Clear performance criteria take the guesswork out of the question “Am I doing well?” Visibility into their performance inspires them to take action, whether that is to “catch up” or “level up”.
They can even choose what advanced subjects to explore and how to bring what they have learned in “the real world” through their learning records.
In addition, the learner can be confident that their learner profile accurately reflects who they are and more importantly what they want to become.
Beyond Paper and Even Digital Transcripts
Innovation is a means, not an end. It is designed to get something that works into the world. This innovation is one that takes learner outcomes beyond paper or even digital transcripts, to a new level. A learner record that is truly meaningful to everyone in the learning community.
- As an institution – imagine that all of your credentials are tied to a standardised system, independent of a professor’s opinion or a student who struggles with tests offered in a certain format. Imagine that your learners enter the world of employment equipped with skills and knowledge aligned with the mission of your school.
- As an educator – imagine the ease of an established rubric to evaluate learning by, one tied to what the student shows you, not how they test. Imagine that your input is not the only way the student’s competence is measured, but a piece of a larger data set designed to evaluate and showcase their skills and knowledge.
- As a learner – imagine completing a course or degree program, and being able to show evidence of that to an employer almost instantly. Imagine credentials that can showcase skills that align with an employer’s needs without having to take a certification course or spend a year attaining a degree to prove knowledge you already have. Imagine the ability to prove, through a digital record that belongs to you, what skills and knowledge you bring to the table even if they have been obtained “out of school.”
Let’s make the next generation of credentials and learner profiles the norm rather than the exception, and together we can change the world.