Richtel’s Rearview Mirror Misses the Mark



Matt Richtel wrote the rearview mirror story of the last decade—technology layered on top of how we’ve always done school yielding meager results at least when measured in traditional ways.  The story of this decade is that personal digital learning will change the world.

The Sunday feature in the NYTimes did a disservice to the field. It’s easy to make sweeping statements about the past and prop up critics. Richtel knows well the case for digital learning, he just chose to leave it out.

Where technology is designed in rather than layered on it is transformational.  When it creates entirely new learning opportunities, like the 4 million students learning online, it is transformational.  When it enables schools that blend the best of online and onsite learning, it is transformational.   Why would Matt look only at weak examples and skip the 40 blended models featured in Innosight Report, The Rise of Blended Learning?  Why not interview with Susan Patrick, iNACOL (where I’m a director)?

For two years, Gov Bob Wise, Alliance for Excellent Education, has been calling attention to the skill gap, the funding gap, and the effective teacher gap.  In a July report, “The Alliance concludes that taking advantage of digital learning to expand opportunities and access for students, especially in rural and urban areas, is the only way to address these issues.”  The Alliance report goes on to outline ten examples of smart uses of instructional technology.  Why didn’t Matt talk to Bob?

Weak ROI on computers in schools is an old story, but the future will not look like the past. Hundreds of schools and pilot projects make the case for personal digital learning.  More broadband, cheap access devices, new apps, and powerful platforms are reshaping how people learn.  Learning technology is reshaping the world by making education more personal and by creating more time and opportunity.

1. More personal. Instruction at the right level, in the best mode, at the right time is more effective teaching to the middle of a class with big skill differences—Rocketship’s John Danner thinks it’s often ten times more effective.  Personalized math products like MIND Research, McGraw’s Power of U, and games-based products like Dreambox and Mangahigh* have all demonstrated great early results.

2. More time.  Online learning allows schools to stretch staffing ratios and leverage teacher talent.  Schools that blend online and onsite instruction can afford a longer day and year.  Engaging work and motivating feedback are extending learning time.  Schools like Rocketship show it’s possible to double productive learning time for kids that need it most.

3. More opportunity. Where policy barriers have come down, online learning is creating more opportunity for every student—access to every AP course, every foreign language course, every STEM course.  Online learning is powering virtual schools and new blended models.  It’s helping students at risk catch up and graduate.

These benefits are evident today in schools like Carpe Diem and in networks like AdvancePath*. The benefits are accelerating and there’s no going back.   All new teachers grew up digital.  Kids come to school wired.  Many new learning apps are free and expanding virally.  The ‘new normal’ economy is demanding more knowledge and skill but the fiscal crisis is demanding better outcomes for less money.

A look back is only of value if we learn from success  stories as well as mistakes.  Matt knows the story, he just left out the good parts: personal digital learning is transforming American public education and extending access to millions of students worldwide.

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This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post

* Learn Capital portfolio company