Arguing that jobs are threatened by future automation and criticizing current prevailing education models, the president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning advocated Wednesday for the nationally in vogue education concept of “personalized learning” and the related idea of “competency based education.”
These terms often are connected to school technology and online education, both of which are venues for companies to make money off the public school system, and both of which have had studies cast doubt upon their effectiveness.
Susan Patrick said after her speech at the annual West Virginia Education Summit that her Virginia-based nonprofit, abbreviated iNACOL, is currently undergoing a name change. Patrick, who’s also the former director of the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology, said she didn’t know what the new name will be.
“[The organization] started with a focus on how online courses could expand access to subjects and teachers,” Patrick said, including foreign language, math, science and Advanced Placement courses. She said a decade ago she advocated more for fully online education.
“We’re much more focused right now on the future of education as a whole and how education systems can support that change, and the question is what is the appropriate role of online learning,” Patrick said.
She said online learning, “in the hands of really great teachers,” can help personalize instruction. She said “it’s really hard to do some of this without technology,” but argued that educators’ jobs are among those least at risk for automation and said “this is all about empowering teachers.”
“We’re really focused on this evolution from online learning to blended learning models,” Patrick said, referring to education that combines online and in-person learning, “and rethinking within schools how we redesign learning environments both in person and in the community to give students the knowledge and skills they need.”
She said the field seems to be moving toward focusing more on a combination of in-person and online learning instead of focusing merely on online education.
“We’ve learned a lot about the emerging field of next generation learning,” she said, “and so before you had data, before you had all of these studies, it is really exciting to think about the potential of different delivery models, but there has been data that shows that there are good quality programs and there are programs that are not graduating students, and there are programs that really need to focus in on quality. And we need broader quality frameworks, which we’re involved in publishing right now.”
Patrick said that “I’m not saying that we’ve completely abandoned, but we’re asking questions about what is the appropriate role of technology, of online learning, of blended learning and really focused on, ‘Are students advancing upon mastery or are you still moving them through with A-F grading that has huge gaps?’”
In her presentation, she defined “personalized learning” as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests — including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn — to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”
She coupled that broad definition with a broad speech on how the idea should be applied, and, citing the threat of automation, argued students need to be prepared “for what humans do best: reasoning, character, ethics, [and] thinking through unexpected problems.”
She also discussed what’s called competency or mastery based education, in which students advance or don’t based on whether they can demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge. She stressed the importance of quickly providing help to a student who doesn’t get a particular concept, rather than failing them for an entire course.
Patrick also criticized the proportion of high school graduates who enter college needing remediation in basic literacy and numeracy.
Wednesday’s event, hosted by the Charleston-based Education Alliance and sponsored by Appalachian Power, a few natural gas energy companies and other companies, including Microsoft, also featured a discussion by state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine and state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher regarding career and technical education.
Paine mentioned possible upcoming revisions to state Board of Education Policy 2510 to “reduce the number of required courses that need to be taken by a student,” possibly allowing for students to take career and technical education courses earlier.