10 Dimensions of School-as-a-Service

Learning, Platforms & Data

Software is moving to the cloud and so is school. Cloud-based computing makes applications available anywhere, anytime, across multiple devices. Software-as-a-service allows us to tailor what we use and how much we buy—take your pick of five versions of Turbo Tax depending on your needs; build your own playlist of music; build your own virtual desktop with your favorite browser, email client, and applications.

School will soon be as customized as the rest of our lives. Following is my initial take on the 10 dimensions of School-as-a-Service (SaaS):

1. SaaS has a digital backbone rather than print backbone; it’s a unique student profile more than a book bag; it’s more an IP address more than seat on a chart;

2. SaaS is student-centered rather than teacher-centered; learning is customized for every student—a playlist and project-list of their own—rather than experiencing whole group age-cohort instruction (large group experiences and seminars may be part of SaaS but they aren’t predominant).

3. SaaS is competency-based rather than time based; progress is marked in small and flexible chunks (e.g., merit badges) measured by multiple assessments many of which are embedded within the learning experiences.

4. SaaS is dynamic scheduling rather than master scheduling; there is a new and flexible day schedule every day rather than a 90 day course schedule.

5. SaaS has a free or inexpensive foundation of open instructional experiences but can be enriched with premium games, simulations, and other curated collections and sequences.  The same can be said for tools—a foundation of pretty good open tools augmented by premium applications—all purchased and downloaded and customized online.

6. SaaS is team-based staffing with some local and some remote staff of different levels and roles. This differentiated and distributed staffing model requires competency-based preparation and development.

7. SaaS isn’t bound by a place but it may be take up temporary residence ranging from a day a week check-in to extended day/year with full wrap around services.

8. SaaS doesn’t get too hung up on a particular access strategy because it is mobile and works across multiple devices.  Many students will look at least three screens during day: a big screen, a mobile screen, and a screen linked to a full keyboard.

9.  SaaS works best with weighted funding with a portable wallet that facilitates acquisition of specialty services (e.g., speech therapy, counseling, reading specialist, or math tutoring).

10. SaaS is best situated in case management services for guidance, transcript management, integration and application opportunities, connection to community services, and extracurricular activities.

SaaS is powered by next generation platforms. As illustrated by our spring series, learning platforms are getting better fast.

The big state and national online learning providers are an example of second generation SaaS.  Most have evolved from mostly flat and sequential content to personalized pacing and supports.

Course access, part-time online learning, a step in the SaaS direction. But as discussed in Core & More: Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness, sustained adult relationships and quality guidance are critical to stringing together blended learning experiences.

Teaching in a SaaS will be dynamic and rewarding.  There will be less direct instruction, but when called for, it will be (like Teach to One) to groups ready for that lesson on that day.  Master teachers will have full year contracts, will be well paid, and will have the opportunity to impact the lives of more students.  More teaching contracts will be flexible in time and location allowing some teachers to tailor their work life.

Most families will continue to appreciate the custodial aspect of school. The efficiencies of SaaS will help some schools stay open year round. Families will have flexibility on when they vacation and learning will be very portable.

SaaS takes an advanced academic and technical architecture but more importantly it takes an innovation mindset— a conviction that our public delivery system can customize learning for every student and can work better for every teacher.

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Note: This is an update of a 2011 post. 

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.