Education Research

Our research identifies innovations critical to supporting a student-centered education system.

Sketch of a laptop

Why education?

Schools and colleges today are struggling to meet the needs of students, families, and employers. Only 47% of Gen Z in the US report that they are thriving, and Americans’ confidence in higher education has plummeted to 36%. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of employers are facing a skills gap and are hungry for new ways to find and train talent.

To meet the demands of today, education systems need to innovate in radical new ways that put students at the center. In our work, that means building a system better designed to address persistent opportunity gaps, to offer more flexible and personalized learning experiences, and to help more students discover their purpose and realize their potential. Our research seeks to identify new organizational models, technology tools, and public policies critical to supporting a student-centered education system.

I just read the paper on value networks and thought that it did a phenomenal job of framing the challenge of embedding learner-centered education fully within the public education space. We are continuing to strive for that outcome here in RSD 13, but it will not be easy. Thanks for all that you do!
Regional School District 13, Durham, CT
I’m from higher education, and we need innovation. The idea that there’s research out there that’s helping to push my thinking is invaluable. I [also] really like that your research isn’t just theories—It’s really practical. So, it’s both big thinking and operational as well.
Kristin Greene
Account Executive, Microsoft

Education Research Topics

Within education, theory has identified these specific research areas as currently having disruptive potential:

The challenge

Education is about more than building  skills. It’s not only what students know but who they know that unlocks opportunities in life. All too often, however, schools focus solely on skills and shortchange human connections—especially for students who are from low-income households, are first-generation college-goers, and students of color.

That’s a blindspot—an estimated half of jobs come through personal connections, and access to supportive relationships predicts everything from grade school GPA to successfully graduating college. Young people who have an adult encouraging them to pursue their goals are more than twice as likely as those without to have a promising future. 

To level the playing field and expand opportunity, K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions need to innovate in ways that build students’ networks.

What we’re finding

Our research has revealed how education systems can better help  students access strong, supportive relationships and the networks they need to get the jobs they want. We’ve identified models, technology tools, and measures that schools can adopt to ensure that all students have access to—and the ability to deepen and diversify—their networks. 

Who You Know network graphic

Resource Website

Who You Know

Learn about promising innovations that are building students’ social capital.

The challenge

The industrial model of education, prevalent today across most schools in developed parts of the world, is outdated and overdue for replacement. Its batch processing design is incapable of addressing the diverse needs and priorities of today’s learners. Yet despite the growing consensus that change is imperative, as well as the sense of urgency created by rapid technological change, schools haven’t changed much over the last century. Efforts to transform the public education system consistently fall short of their aims.

What we’re finding

The reason the industrial model has proven so intractable is that too many change efforts focus narrowly on injecting new resources or shifting the practices of schools and educators. Meanwhile, gravitation-like forces inevitably draw schools back to the status quo. 

What are these hidden forces hindering change? External entities like education agencies and policymakers; learners and their families; employee unions; voters and taxpayers; etc.—collectively referred to as an organization’s value network—are the dominant influences that shape a school’s priorities. Long-lasting transformation doesn’t stand a chance if it runs counter to the value network’s priorities.

States, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs need to create the conditions where new value networks can emerge—and consensus is built—that aligns with the priorities of families, society, and the economy.

The challenge:

Different students have different learning needs. They come to class with differences in background knowledge and academic skills; their brains develop in different ways and at different paces; and they have different interests that motivate their learning. Yet, conventional classroom instruction is a one-size-fits all approach. Historically, the burden to compensate for differences has rested on the shoulders of teachers. But there are practical limits to how much teachers can differentiate and personalize instruction on their own.

What we’re finding:

Over the last few decades, the advent of online learning has enabled schools and educators to develop new instructional models that take advantage of the benefits of online learning within brick-and-mortar school settings. These models, referred to as blended learning, allow teachers to give students some element of control over the time, place, path, or pace of their learning in order to better meet varied learning needs and interests. The Christensen Institute has documented and cataloged various models of blended learning common across the K–12 landscape.

Blended Learning color wheel graphic

Resource Website

Blended Learning

Design a blended learning program for your school or classroom

The challenge

Rather than ratcheting up aid to meet ever-increasing price tags, we must solve for the root cause of the college affordability crisis: the business model. The traditional business model of higher education is rife with embedded inefficiencies and warped incentives—ranging from flawed credit transfer processes to “black box” degrees, and from high leadership turnover to antiquated accreditation systems.

While higher education institutions are quick to market the benefits of going to college, too few follow through with structures that support staying in college. A staggering 38% of students drop out, leaving them significantly more likely to default on student loans, and 20% more likely to be unemployed than degree holders. 

What we’re finding

Our research has identified promising business models to scale access to affordable degree programs by combining online and competency based curricula. At the same time, policies need to give institutions the flexibility to develop instructional models that take advantage of the potential of technology and the ability to  focus on incentivizing quality through outcomes-based measures.

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