The Changing Face of Education?

I just returned from the invigorating and inspiring annual International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference, where this year’s focus included “blended”* along with “online” learning.  iNACOL Executive Director Susan Patrick spoke almost wonderingly at the explosion of the organization, from seventeen people who met together ten years ago to the more than twenty three hundred who gathered to share, compare, listen to and learn from each other.

Just a few years ago authors Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn predicted online learning would become the disruptive force that would change the face of education (Disrupting Class, 2008). Scott Benson, Program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that the Foundation’s Small Schools initiative attempted an education reform that wasn’t sustained once the funding went away. By contrast, he noted the blended and online learning demand is growing whether there is grant support funding or not. (To be fair, K12 online programs began with grant-funded programs like Virtual High School, now the VHS Collaborative, which began in 1996.) Still, his point is well taken: demand is driving this education initiative, and educators are doing their best to keep up, and the iNACOL conference is finely tuned to assist.

Sessions address key elements of this emerging educational context, including personalization, competency-based learning, policy drivers and barriers, funding possibilities, and emerging technologies. Presenters are practitioners, product developers, entrepreneurs, policy lobbyists, experts, and learners. Conversations are the norm, including “campfire” style “Meet the Expert” sessions. I confess I was most interested in discovering kindred spirits actively pursuing practices aligned with QED’s Theory of Change for Transformational Learning, and am happy to report I found several, such as the folks at Educurious, Jobs for the Future, and  Boston Day and Evening Academy, all of whom are helping ensure that this latest “redesign” is not simply more of the same with a different name and face (some of you  may remember filmstrips-on-video…)

At our session on Personalizing for Proficiency: Pedagogy and Practices for Student Centered Learning, Elizabeth Cardine and I highlighted QED’s free (everybody’s favorite word, alternatively known as “OER” – open education resources) Learner Sketch Tool,  an online tool designed to provide insight and information for learners and educators to improve learning outcomes. We also unveiled the beta version QED’s newest tool, the Transformational Change Alignment Analysis. (We’d love to hear your feedback!)

I particularly appreciated the spirit of commitment and collaboration that permeated the conference, reminding me of Fenway High School’s motto: Work Hard. Be Yourself. Do the Right Thing. After all, if we aren’t here to do the right thing by ALL – each and every – learner, those learners will take their engagement elsewhere. Guaranteed.

If you missed this year’s conference, check out the upcoming webinars, join in this growing international conversation about the future of learning, and mark your calendar now for the 2014 Symposium. Your voice as much as any other will help shape next steps for learners and learning!

* With a proliferation of competing terminology cluttering up the conversations, iNACOL’s latest publication, Mean What You Say: Defining and Integrating Personalized, Blended and Competency Education by Susan Patrick, Kathryn Kennedy and Allison Powell arrived just in time.

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