Ed-Tech Policy

Student-Centered Learning Top of Mind for Ed-Tech Companies

By Michele Molnar — June 06, 2017 4 min read
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Preparing for a K-12 future that is digitally driven and more student-centered will change the role of almost everyone involved in education—and companies are among those trying to figure out just how to respond.

That challenge was top of mind for the 40 businesses and organizations that participated in an ed-tech meeting last month that was a run-up to the 2017 Content in Context Conference here. The groups from the United States, South Africa, and Sweden that attended the meeting grappled with several key questions, including:

• What will students come to expect as they learn in ways that are relevant to them and take greater responsibility for their learning?

• How will teachers’ practice change to “guide” student learning, rather than leading it every step of the way?

• And how can ed-tech businesses provide instructional materials that support these changes in the classroom?

“Make no mistake: Student-centered learning is disruptive,” said Jeff Livingston, the president and CEO of EdSolutions Inc., who spoke at the meeting, which was organized by the Association of American Publishers’ PreK-12 Learning Group.

“How do we acknowledge what is coming without going broke waiting for it to come?” asked Livingston, who spent more than a decade as a senior executive at McGraw-Hill Education before starting his own company. “How do we recognize that our existing revenue streams are vulnerable without throwing them away reaching for revenue streams that are not there yet?”

‘Unlearning to Do’

The Pre-K-12 publishing industry—which includes digital and print products—has held steady at about $8 billion in revenues over the past several years, said Jay Diskey, the executive director of the association’s PreK-12 Learning Group. But products are more diversified, and adoption markets are more flexible in recent years, he said.

For instance, about $1 billion that schools traditionally invested in core curricular products are now spent on subsectors like supplemental resources, education media, courseware, and assessment products, he said.

Although Livingston said he couldn’t give attendees a blueprint for responding to the new environment, he did elaborate on what he thinks is the wrong approach: “to do what you always did, but only more so.”

Old assumptions about what schools really need will be called into question, he said, as a teacher-centered and curriculum-centered world is likely to be organized differently, with the student learner making more decisions.

“We have a lot of unlearning to do” in schools, said Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, a science and technology high school that emphasizes project-based and tech-focused learning.

The purpose of education is not what many adults insist it is: to prepare students for specific jobs in the 21st-century economy, argued Lehmann.

In reality, schools have no idea what a 5-year-old is likely to do as he or she grows and enters the job market until retirement in 2077. Instead, he favors an inquiry-driven education in which students ask powerful questions that no one knows the answer to—until they do their research.

Competency-Based Learning

More than 40 states are investigating how they might use competency-based learning, an approach in which students progress through grades based on mastery of content, not time spent in classes, said Fred Bramante, a former chairman of the New Hampshire board of education who launched the National Center for Competency-Based Learning in 2013. He told publishers that students engaged in this form of education will learn sometimes in a classroom, sometimes online, and sometimes in a real-world setting.

“When you think about creating materials for school districts, how much are your efforts going to be put into that 20th-century model—improving upon things that don’t work?” he asked. “Or will you start investing significantly in thinking about where this is going?”

“The decisionmaker is changing as to what is happening in the classroom and how,” said Livingston, and with that, K-12 purchasing decisions will change. “The notion that discrete units of knowledge are packaged for delivery to an industrialized system” by decisionmakers in a hierarchical classroom setting will be part of that transformation, he said.

The shift will require companies to move “from simplicity to elegance” for this technology-intensive endeavor, said Michael Jay, the president of Educational Systemics, a consulting firm that helps K-12 organizations and companies.

Educators will need help sorting through newly available information, because “millions of years of evolution have not prepared us to read streams of data,” he said. At the same time, “good educators develop intuition about their students’ academic and social issues,” and companies will need to understand how to replicate that intuition via technology.

Research Experts Needed

Finding ways to stay current on the latest educational research will be essential, Jay added. “If you don’t have somebody who’s well-versed in staying up on research, find somebody who is,” he said.

The meeting focused on some key technological features that ed-tech companies will need to pay close attention to in the years ahead. They include interoperability for assessments, learning analytics, mapping educational requirements, collecting valuable metadata, and tracking how it is used to make inferences about student learning.

Whatever technology is necessary to drive student-centered learning, Livingston advised that companies be prepared to offer an array of options to schools, and by extension, to students.

“If students are really at the center, they will make big changes often and be upset when they don’t have real choice,” he said. “Think of that as a strategic business initiative.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2017 edition of Education Week as Student-Centered Learning Top of Mind for Companies

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