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Guest Opinion: 10 Benefits & 10 Concerns About The Shift To Digital Learning


February 11, 2012 – by Tom Vander Ark

10 Benefits & 10 Concerns About The Shift To Digital Learning” by Tom Vander Ark was originally published on Getting Smart.

Rhode Island is fortunate to have Deborah Gist as commissioner, she’s a real chief for change. Gist and her team held a digital learning summit in Providence today. I had the good fortune to spend the day talking to teachers and principals about the shift to personal digital learning. They told me what excites them about the shift and the stuff we need to worry about.

10 things teachers in Rhode Island are excited about

1. Engagement: improved student motivation from engaging content and game-based strategies

2. Time: extending the learning day and year; allowing students to learn when they learn best

3. Location: anywhere anytime learning creates a new world of opportunity

4. Pacing: allowing students to progress at their own rate

5. Individualization: customizing learning by level and modality

6. Content: rich, deep, and up to date

7. Sharing: the difference between ‘turn it in’ and ‘publish it’; the ability to teachers to share what works

8. Data: instant and multiple forms of feedback; smart profiles that will drive customized learning

9. Ownership: students choosing what to learn, how to demonstrate their learning

10. Parent involvement: transparency and connections the classroom

I also mentioned the benefits that many teachers will experience in blended schools including the support and collaboration of teaching in teams, expanding career opportunities as learning professionals. (See 10 reasons teachers love blended learning)

10 things teachers in Rhode Island are concerned about

1. Infrastructure: particularly affordable broadband at home

2. More of the same: the risk of layering technology on top of how we’ve always done school with little benefit

3. Old paradigms: teachers, administrators, and parents trapped in an old model

4. Equity: among several equity concerns, the ability to vary time could results in fast groups and slow groups based on historical stereotypes

5. Management and scheduling: customized learning will require much better management and scheduling tools

6. Preparation & development: leaning new tools will be the easy part, learning new roles will be more challenging particularly as school models proliferate

7. Obsolesce: constantly changing software and hardware versions make it tough for schools to stay current (but cloud computing will help)

8. Interoperability: there lots of engaging content and cool apps but nothing works together

9. Higher Ed: dated entrance requirements and instructional practices influence K-12 and teacher preparation

10. Security and cheating: technology will solve some problems but introduce other challenges

Another interesting concern was about the potential loss of productive habits of mind.  It reminded me of David Coleman’s interest in encouraging students to wrestle with difficult text.  Digital learning can help on this front—but only if we’re intentional about the use of time and tools.

Rhode Island has produced leading innovations like the Big Picture network but it is in the back of the pack when it comes to online and blended learning (see the Digital Learning Now scorecard) but Gist’s team is working hard to change that.  If the enthusiastic group of 300 adult learners that spent the day at Rhode Island College are any indication, learning opportunities will improve for Rhode Island kids in the next year.

Check out the similarities and differences between the Rhode Island groups and an SREB discussion in September

About The Author

Tom Vander Ark


Tom is author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and founder of Tom is also CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner in Learn Capital, a venture capital firm investing in learning content, platforms, and services with the goal of transforming educational engagement, access, and effectiveness.

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