4 hallmarks of the shift to digital education

Three high school students smiling and looking at a digital tablet

Digital technology in the classroom improves student learning by personalizing the experience. Blended learning also extends learning time and options, powers professional-quality work products, and boosts collaboration. To realize the full potential of technology, the shift to digital learning requires a robust plan of action. These are the hallmarks of digital learning success:

A shared vision for powerful learning

Learning outcomes are a mix of developing content knowledge, cultivating qualities like perseverance and good communication, and real world applications. For example, math teachers want geometry students to know formulae and how and when to use them. Art teachers want students to value the process of making art, not just the product. Once educators agree on outcomes, they are halfway to a shared vision for powerful learning — the hard part is creating the best learner experience.

Learning is subjective but learning outcomes are objective, so the joint expertise of educators is essential. This involves teachers collaborating with students, parents, and the community to decide what a graduate profile should look like. In other words, establishing what a young graduate should know how to do and how best to help them achieve this.

Students can share their most powerful learning experiences. Parents can share their home’s technology landscape, so teachers know what their students do with technology outside the classroom. The community at large has a vested interest in supporting resource allocation to implement the resulting plan. Because technology changes rapidly, understanding what the world will look like for graduates shapes how they learn today. Embracing what blended learning has to offer students empowers teaches and administrators to bring their A-game to the planning process.

Empowering teachers and leaders to achieve coherence

Educators know that teaching and learning in the context of budgets, political leadership, and federal, state, and local policies often results in incoherent systems. Building a coherent education system within a school or district is a top priority for both teachers and leaders. Developing curricula that integrate digital technology involves deciding how best to achieve this coherence. The enterprise and portfolio approaches can serve as useful templates.

The enterprise approach involves everybody across the system doing the same thing to achieve the same goals. This model echoes the old managed curriculum method — disliked my many for not accommodating diversity in learning styles. But what sets the enterprise approach apart can be seen in action at the Mooresville Graded School District. There, the superintendent developed a system of distributed leadership in which educators identified problems and developed solutions at the school level.

The portfolio approach puts decision-making about curricula and supporting technologies in the hands of individual schools. This allows educators to develop a shared vision at the local level, facilitating cohesive and customized learning. The Santa Ana Unified School District transitioned from the enterprise to the portfolio model to allow educators to take on leadership roles. The result was different choices about what works best at the local level. One school adopted Chromebooks, while another went with the iPad. What was essential to the process was not the device used but the learning goals; the technology serves the instructional program, not the other way around.

More powerful in some ways than the enterprise approach, the portfolio method is not without difficulties. One of its setbacks is systemic coherence. Districts employing the portfolio approach are tasked, for example, with ensuring educational opportunities across the system are fair. Digital technology used at one school may not be helpful at another. Local level educators must ensure that their digital technology choices add real value to their students’ learning experiences.

We’ve discussed two of the four hallmarks of shifting to digital learning. To learn more about digital learning options to support curricula planning, read the complete Four Hallmarks white paper on making the shift.