Next steps for digital learning in Georgia

By:

Dec 23, 2013

Last Wednesday, Georgia’s Digital Learning Task Force submitted a report to Governor Nathan Deal with recommendations for Georgia’s K-12 digital learning strategy. Now that a few days have passed since the report’s release, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about what the report did well and how it lays the groundwork for future action.

The report does a nice job framing the importance of digital learning. Its opening letter states, “Digital learning has the potential to leverage technology to transform our educational system by providing students, parents, and educators more flexibility over the time, place, path, and pace of learning.” This, and other statements, correctly emphasize that digital learning should not be merely an enhancement to traditional lectures and textbooks. Rather, it should be used to enable personalized models of instruction so that all students can achieve academic success.

As the report dives into specific recommendations, it also convincingly highlights the need for technology infrastructure to support digital learning. High-quality personalized learning cannot happen without prerequisite tools and connectivity. Accordingly, the report’s first four recommendations provide detailed and actionable guidelines for developing better broadband Internet for schools, providing better internal networks for distributing broadband within schools, increasing access to devices, and fostering the adoption of better digital learning content.

The report also gives good focus to the important roles that blended-learning models and competency-based learning systems play in enabling personalized learning. Half of the report’s 12 recommendations focus on these critical digital learning elements. Highlights include investing in formative and summative proficiency assessments to enable competency-based learning, raising awareness among students and parents of competency-based learning options, allocating funding for blended and competency-based learning, and recognizing the potential need to redesign school furnishings and architecture for optimal personalized learning. Also of particular note is the recommendation for the state to create a fund that will incentivize innovation in blended and competency-based learning.

While the framing of the report and the key themes that emerge in the recommendations are good, some aspects of the report could have been better. The report highlights the importance of blended learning and competency-based learning, but it lacks clear directions for shepherding the innovation needed on the ground. Outside of calling for better infrastructure and proposing an innovation fund, the report seems to be missing a real call to action that could galvanize the actual creation of robust student-centered models of learning across the state.

The report also stops short of recommending a funding mechanism to extend high-quality course choice to all students in the state. This is particularly unfortunate because students in Georgia deserve to have an array of learning options and good information about those options so that they can choose the opportunities that best meet their individual learning needs. Additionally, performance-based course choice funding is one of the most elegant accountability systems and one of the best mechanisms for incentivizing innovation on the part of education providers.

As we look to the future, it is clear that technology is transforming education across the nation. Yet it is not clear what the end result of that transformation will look like. As new systems and models emerge, policy plays a critical role in defining the goals around which those models and systems will coalesce. Hence, good policy is critical for ensuring that digital learning takes shape in a form that enables not only convenience and lower cost, but also facilitates personalized learning, greater access to high-quality learning, and greater accountability for student learning outcomes. Given these needs, the Task Force’s report could not be timelier.

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.