Don’t forget these keys of mobile implementations

ingredients-successWhy are some mobile learning implementations successful while others struggle? It seems struggling districts are missing at least one of a handful of ingredients that successful districts have in common. When it comes to mobile learning success, leaving out just one key ingredient can ruin an otherwise perfect recipe.

What are these ingredients? They can be categorized as: leadership, strategy, and expectations management.

Most leadership considerations are simply standard change and project management best practices such as ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page, that the goals are clearly defined and documented, that policies and procedures are in place, and that there is sustainable funding. Others are somewhat more challenging.

One leadership component that is often missed by districts is to have a very clear vision for why they are implementing mobile learning. Beyond shiny toys, engagement, and efficiency, successful districts use mobile learning to change teaching and learning. These districts focus on preparing students to work and live in a connected world that will expect them to be able to gain new knowledge and completely new skills every few years.

Next page: Strategies often overlooked

With a clear vision of the “why” in place, districts can address another often-overlooked element of success: marketing.

Mobile learning is still relatively new, and classrooms and homework that use technology look different than the classrooms teachers, community members, and parents graduated from. A marketing campaign can help everyone come to a shared understanding of how the changes will benefit students. To really make the message clear, it is a good idea to explicitly brand the program — give it a name, a tag line, and plenty of clear communication about what to expect. And when the inevitable bumps in the road happen, successful districts are prepared to communicate quickly and transparently with parents, the community, and the press about what happened, and what measures are in place to address the issue.

Being clear about the “why” also makes it possible to identify and document specific measures of success for the program. Some districts are looking for greater engagement, fewer discipline problems, increased attendance, and other things that are measured quantitatively. Others are looking for deeper learning, collaboration and creativity, growth mindsets, self-directed learning, or other goals that are the result of changes in instruction. Whatever the goals, documenting and celebrating progress helps successful districts stay on track, particularly when things get bumpy.

The strategy elements of a successful recipe consist primarily of effective execution: plans and effective implementation of a robust network, roll-out logistics, professional development, curriculum, digital tools and resources, and marketing communications. However, these necessary and straight-forward elements depend on one key person for their success: the leader in each building.

Once plans are in place, the success of a mobile learning implementation is in the hands of each principal. A principal who has taken ownership of the goals — the “why” of the project — relentlessly keeps the building focused on the transformation, shifting the culture to one of continual growth and improvement. In such an environment, it is common for both teachers and students to be working harder than ever and yet to feel as though it isn’t work at all – they are engaging in Seymour Papert’s “hard fun” and are adamant about how they could never go back to teaching and learning the old way.

In buildings where the principal is skeptical or unengaged with the goals of the project, that transformation is slower, if it happens at all. It is normal within a district for there to be a range of adoption initially — those who are unleashed by the opportunity and surge ahead, those who are reluctant, and the many in between. When looking at successful districts, they don’t expect everyone to make the leap at first — they focus on and support their early adopters and let them become the visible success stories that inspire the rest, while giving the reluctant adopters three or four years to navigate the change.

The final set of success ingredients fall under the category of expectations management. Mobile learning still means different things to different people. Given that it is new and different and problems inevitably arise, successful districts find it helpful to let everyone know what to expect. These districts tell parents what learning will look like in the schools and what is expected at home. They tell educators how the culture will shift and what each of them needs to do. They tell the press and the community why mobile learning program matters for students. They tell everyone what the goals are and how the district is progressing.

But most importantly, successful districts make it clear that digital transformation is an ongoing, living work in progress that will never be completed, that implementation will be uneven between schools and classrooms, that the timeline is years as opposed to weeks for teaching and learning to really change, and that though problems are inevitable, so are solutions.

Leadership. Strategy. Expectations management. These are the ingredients successful districts combine to serve up mobile implementation success.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. For more discussion, see the short videos of Lenny Schad, CTIO for Houston ISD talking about the recipe for digital transformation.