If you’ve been paying attention to education news lately, you’ve probably noticed that the conversation around technology in the classroom is shifting. When edtech first burst onto the scene almost three decades ago, access to more technology – devices, broadband – was everything. Educators, policymakers and parents all wanted to know how to get as many devices into the hands of students as soon as possible. How students leveraged technology to support learning would not become a primary focus for many years to come.
Today, edtech success is measured with a different yardstick. The parents, teachers, and other mentors who guide a child’s education – whom I like to refer to as “learning guardians” – aren’t merely satisfied with increasing the amount of tech in the classroom. What’s more important now is that the technology in our schools and homes is positively impacting student learning through engagement, personalized lessons and effective curriculum. Building competence in academics and skills while building confidence in learning has finally come into full focus.
Edtech should adapt with the learner
Educators agree that no two students learn the same way. If that’s true, then we must design our education technology to help teachers adjust material to the style and pace of each student.
Personalization lies at the heart of any effective blended learning model. According to a research review by the RAND Corporation, students that learn using a personalized learning model see larger achievement growth in mathematics than those who don’t. Students who started at a lower level of achievement than their peers saw even greater growth rates. Use of blended learning models helped narrow achievement gaps, particularly in math.
At DreamBox Learning, the company I lead, we build that concept right into our learning platform. As students learn with our math platform, teachers receive feedback not only about which concepts students are mastering, but how they’re learning them. Teachers get a detailed breakdown of each individual student’s learning experience and which concepts they may be ready to learn next.
Not just fun and games
When we talk about student tech use both at home and in the classroom, what students are doing with technology is just as important as how much they’re using it. Effective edtech implementation empowers students to become producers using edtech, not just passive consumers of digital content. We aim to build student agency in life-long learning pursuits. Deep thinking, problem solving, critical thinking and, yes, learning from mistakes will all build resiliency in learning and prepare students for a more successful and productive learning career and life.
One thing any learning guardian can tell you is that when a student is proud of the work that they’re doing, they can’t wait to share with a trusted adult. Learning guardians should encourage students to share both the lows and the highs of their learning experience to help students understand how productive struggle helps them grow as math learners.
Empowering teachers to do what they do best
As class sizes continue to grow, teachers are facing more demands on their time. Simply put, the more students there are per class, the fewer opportunities there are for educators to engage with students in small groups or one-on-one.
When we ask teachers to tell us the biggest issues they face in the classroom, large class sizes come up time and again. Education technology can help alleviate some of the pressure on teachers to be in 30 places at once. Adding instructional technology into the mix opens opportunities for more advanced students to work ahead while learning guardians can spend more time with students who need extra help.
It’s not about time, it’s about impact
One of the concerns critics often raise about edtech is a lack of proven results to impact student learning. For the growing number of schools that have committed to the model, however, the results point to higher student achievement.
Blended learning has the power to increase student achievement and drive more engagement. According to a 2014 study by WestEd, California public schools that used game-based software to implement a blended learning model for math saw a greater percentage of students achieve competency on state tests.
Building learning around the adult learner
The next generation of blended learning won’t just focus on students. Adult learners are an important part of the learning conversation. Future discussions about the role of technology in the classroom should focus on how to better reach learning guardians.
Blended learning is a partnership between students, educators, parents and many other stakeholders. Education technology must be able to delight and surprise adult learners in its ability to increase engagement for learning guardians and drive actionable insights they can apply to help students learn.
Education technology can’t drive student achievement on its own. But it can provide learning guardians with additional tools to help every child – regardless of race, gender or zip code – reach their full potential and develop the skills needed to succeed in an increasingly tech-focused world.
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