The future of education is here, it's just not evenly distributedLast month I attended the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Palm Springs, California to learn more about where education is headed (I blogged about my 2012 experience here). The theme was "Powering Personalized Learning," and there is some incredible stuff going on, from adaptive eLearning programs to making customized educational games. It reminded me of a great quote by author William Gibson, "The future is already here - it's just not evenly distributed," by which he means that there are already pioneers doing now what we'll all be doing in the future, they just haven't spread to the mainstream yet. You just have to know where to look. There are definitely some schools doing amazing things, they just haven't spread yet. In my opinion, the two most interesting ones are, on the private school side, Acton Academy in Austin, and on the public school side, Summit Public Schools in California. Summit had a higher profile at the conference, but Acton was highlighted in speeches by two different keynote speakers, including Vicki Phillips from the Gates Foundation and Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame. Their models are very similar, with lots of student agency and teachers who've switched from lecturing to mentoring and guiding. The students work at their own pace through playlists of eLearning curriculum - earning learning badges - as well as working on collaborative projects where they learn 21st-century teamwork and leadership skills (plus outside workplace experiences like apprenticeships). This approach is *far* more engaging for the kids, and therefore they learn so much more and faster. Acton's kids are testing 5+ years ahead of grade level (!), and Summit is one of the top performing public schools in California (let's hope their charter school model comes to Texas). Laura Sandefer, a founder of Acton Academy along with her husband, was just in Houston last week to talk about the school on KHOU Channel 11, which you can watch here.
Needless to say, these models seem far too radical for traditional public schools to embrace, so they've been engaging in more modest blended learning experiments, with mixed success - mainly, IMHO, because they are too locked into the rigid, sequential, single classroom/teacher/subject model, both in their mindset and their physical buildings. Michael Horn, co-author with the famous Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen of the book "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns" a few years ago and definitely one of the leading thinkers on education, released his new book, "Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools" as a handbook sequel to Disrupting Class with a step-by-step process traditional schools can follow to embrace blended eLearning. I bought a copy, got him to sign it, and read it on the flight home - very highly recommended if you are involved in education in any way and it can be used no matter what level you're at, from an individual teacher through school, district, and state-level administration. In his sessions, he also discussed "micro blended learning schools" - one-room schoolhouses updated for the 21st-century like Acton Academy - as a wildcard of potential disruptive innovation in education, which I completely agree with. He notes that they hit two of kids key motivators perfectly: (1) making clear progress and experiencing real success (vs. traditional grading that tells most kids they're not succeeding) and (2) having fun with friends on projects (as opposed to being forced to sit quietly and listen to a lecture).
If you'd like to read more about the conference, Getting Smart has some great blog posts on day one, day two, day three, leaders, and technologies. If you're interested in learning more about the Acton Academy model, they were profiled on Getting Smart here and Talent Unbound is their affiliate in Houston.