Emerging Technology

Where Is Your District on the Continuum of Learning?

A number of recent conversations and thoughts have revolved around a concept I call the “Continuum of Learning.” It compares the learning culture of a school district against the tools required to support that learning culture. While it works very well as a diagram, it would prove beneficial to SP&M readers to understand the basic concept.

At one end of the spectrum we have a 20th-century traditional (industrial school model) district where the learning culture is teacher-centered and use summative assessments (like end-of-year tests where the data is so out of sync with the timing of when students learn concepts that there’s no chances to go back and correct the knowledge gap) for academic advancement. They use textbooks, manipulatives and pencil and paper as their tools. Most of us attended that type of school.

The second level is typical for a number of districts in the United States. They are still teacher-centered using summative assessments. They are also using textbooks, manipulatives, pencil and paper with perhaps a computer lab in each facility and a few computers in every classroom. They teach technology as content and have no real digital content because they do not have enough computing devices for students.

In the middle is a district that is shifting to 21st-century learning, where the learning culture is student-centered with a differentiated delivery environment (different kids learn in different ways at a different pace within each room and perhaps change around for different content). Their teachers employ a wide range of 21st-century learning methodologies along with formative assessments (the teacher knows what students did or did not learn today and that information changes student experiences planned for tomorrow) along with summative assessments to determine academic advancement. They may still have a few textbooks but are moving to a total digital environment with at least a 2:1 ratio of student to computing devices. They have a total digital management suite where all student data is automatically generated from student work using computing devices. The teacher is not required to make any manual entries.

The fourth type of district takes it deeper into the digital environment and a more 21st-century assessment approach. They are a total digital environment with student-centered, differentiated learning and using formative assessments for daily information, but an overall competency assessment (if you can demonstrate the skill or knowledge, you get the credit) process to determine academic advancement. Teachers employ an even wider range of 21st-century learning methodologies with some aspects of Blended Learning (anywhere, anytime learning). They do not use any textbooks, everything is digital and on-line, and they also have a digital management suite that automatically collects student data. This environment requires every student to have a computing device.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Industrial School Model, we have a district using 21st-century Individualized Learning Plan approach based on each student’s learning needs. They use formative assessments to determine where a student is along the learning path on a regular basis, and competency assessments for academic advancement. All content, student experiences and management suite are digital with automatic collection of student information. This is a web-browser-based digital environment where every student has a device and learning can take place anywhere at any time, not just in the classroom or even school building.

The first trend you may recognize is that the Vision/Mission of Learning drives the technology tools. Providing more advanced tools without the vision of learning being at the same level is inefficient, wasting technology expenditures. As noted in prior articles, going one to one without curriculum/instruction reasons for doing so typically ends up being a failure.

It may be valuable to state that the learning culture and supporting tools may not line up. A district may have gone one to one in their high schools starting in 2006, but even today the teachers view the student computing devices as a simple replacement of pencil and paper. They still approach learning from a teacher-centered, summative assessment basis.

The value of this concept is that it enables you to think about and establish where on the continuum your district is located today; have discussions regarding the hindrances and obstacles to moving further towards a 21st-century learning environment; developing goals and strategies focused on overcoming those hindrances and obstacles, along with costs and funding from your operational and capital budgets; and last, define success as how far down the road should you be five years from now.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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