President & Chief Executive Officer, iNACOL (International Association for K-12 Online Learning)
Renewed focus on competency education.
When international comparisons with the U.S. K-12 education system are made, no one is asking if other countries fund schools based on the number of minutes a student sits in a seat. To do so would be outrageous. Yet, that is exactly what the U.S. does for education funding. Student learning is not a matter of time. Students learn at all times of day in different ways. Education should be designed around what it takes for a young person to master a subject or learning goal in formal or informal settings.
What does it look like to redesign a system around learning—rather than time? It requires putting students needs for learning first, it requires redesigning activities around learning goals daily, measuring progress based on mastery and ensuring students only advance when they have demonstrated mastery through systems of assessments that include performance-based assessments. It means providing students with world-class content, high expectations and individualized learning.
Teachers are the gold standard of quality.
Online teaching is an art that requires the facile use of complex tools, just like any other artist. With more than 1.8 million students taking online courses, there are more teachers than ever reaching out to learn how to teach online. Teachers are coming in droves—for the flexibility and ability to teach students across different geographic areas without the distractions of traditional classrooms.
Teachers are the most important aspect of a student’s learning experience and the same is true when students are learning online. The ability to help serve as content expert, idea shaper, discussion catalyst, content concierge, coach and facilitator combined requires a set of skills shared by teachers in traditional classrooms and online learning programs. Teachers and students alike need to have well-defined writing skills to be successful online—just like in the real world they live in.
Teaching is teaching—and the online tools can support teachers to personalize learning in ways nearly impossible in other environments. Learning the technology tools to make their classes more engaging and exciting is an opportunity and challenge.
Build on optimism for new learning models.
There is tremendous potential for applying advanced learning technologies for improving student learning outcomes. How can we personalize instruction for every student? The question might as well be, “how can we personalize instruction for 20 students in a classroom without technology?” And, how do we provide new teaching models that combine the best worlds of online learning, blended learning and competency education?
New learning models and systems should be based around supporting learning and design of the learning experience should drive any use of technology. Customized learning environments supported by technology expand content offerings, allow multiple pathways to learning and provide unprecedented access to teaching resources. Education is a civil right for every child—and we must protect the integrity of our educational system to ensure every student has access to a high-quality education system that prepares them for a lifetime of success. In order to eliminate huge gaps in knowledge, we need to invest in ensuring success is the only outcome.
Listen to the kids—they will tell you exactly what they believe.
- “My teacher is the most important part of my online learning experience—I have a one-on-one relationship with her.”
- “My online courses are challenging. I thought I was doing okay in math in my old school, but when they tested me on the way in—I was two grade levels behind. Online learning allowed me to catch up in a year and a half and now I’m back on track in my grade.”
- “I work better when more is demanded of me.”
- “I didn’t know about online learning at first. Now learning online is exciting and engaging. Don’t make me go back to the old way.”
- “I can get extra help from teachers when I need it online without disturbing others in my class.”
- “If I had known so few third graders are reading at grade level, I would have started a tutoring program with other seniors for volunteering at elementary schools.”
Trust and be nice—leadership is about learning, sharing and trusting.
As we are navigating next generation learning, there is much to share, be honest about what is working and what isn’t—and continue on a road to improve the fabric of our society. The three most important characteristics of leaders, as relayed to me by William Bosher, are 1) Trust, 2) Integrity and 3) Passion. Let our passion and integrity lead us to do the right thing for helping kids every day.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Susan Patrick is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). iNACOL is the leading voice for the emerging field of online and blended learning.
Representing a diverse cross-section of K-12 education, including school districts, educators, state education agencies, universities, education reformers, and a variety of content and technology providers, iNACOL serves the field through education and advocacy aimed at building the capacity of online and blended learning professionals, publishing national quality standards and shaping the direction of the field as a whole. In 2011, she was named to the International Advisory Board for the European Union program for lifelong learning/virtual education. She is the former Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Prior, Patrick worked for Governor Hull in Arizona as legislative liaison on technology policy issues. She was a Site Director for Old Dominion University’s TELETECHNET distance learning program.