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Learning Impact Blog


Community leadership for more effective use of technology in service to education

This week IMS Global released the 2014 Learning Impact Report which summarizes trends we are seeing in the ed tech sector based on the current year and historical winners of IMS’s annual Learning Impact competition. Many thanks to those that participated in the competition from around the world and, of course, the evaluators and editorial panel! Ed tech researchers or leaders interested in helping with the Learning Impact work in the future please contact us!

The executive summary of the report highlights five key trends out of the 15 or so we have been following since we began the program in 2007. One of the challenges of the ed tech sector is that we don’t have a common vocabulary to describe key developments, and frequently when a common term emerges, like LMS, MOOC or analytics – they become overloaded and frequently lose their usefulness. For that reason, we have focused the LIA process and terminology around what an institution is hoping to achieve with the support of technology – rather than the buzz terms for the technology itself – and focus on actual use of the technology at an institution (i.e. real examples of implementation).

In this blog I will briefly give some of my thoughts on each of the five key trends highlighted, not to repeat the specifics of what is in the report, but rather to help clarify why these are indeed key trends worth watching – and how they relate to the “big picture.”

Trend #1: Growing ecosystem of educational apps are enabling rapid integration of innovative learning tools for teachers and students

Diversity of need and diversity of offering is the future of education. Massification is not the future – it is the past (leading nations and societies will find ways to move beyond the current massified, one size fits all educational systems to the next phase). Over the long haul this trend to support diversity will be the most disruptive factor in the global education sector. The consumer mobile platform providers have taught us a thing or two about how to enable the “long tail” ecosystem of apps. Education will also move in this direction to support the need for diversity. IMS Global is right in the middle of enabling this trend via standards like LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). We have evolved to 32 learning platforms that can “consume” LTI apps and about 100 certified apps. We estimate that there are 2-3x that number of apps that are actually using LTI, but not yet certified. Why can’t we just have 3-4 platforms like in the consumer world? Apple, Android, Microsoft, Amazon? The answer is self-evident when you consider that “the educational ecosystem” must encompass integration INTO and ACROSS the world of consumer devices and apps. How will the education sector manage to stay platform agnostic while bridging this gap? No one knows for sure but an obvious solution is for the much smaller (i.e. smaller than Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) education sector participants (the suppliers and institutions) is to ban together and offer a set of bridging standards that enable any platform/any app to integrate with the platform agnostic educational ecosystem. Indeed, that is the direction that the IMS work is already taking and we are now seeing examples of things like Facebook/LMS integration using LTI.

Trend #2: Emphasis on student success and outcomes-based learning paving the way for GPS-like products

For students to do better they need better data about how they are doing and what their path alternatives/recommendations are: pretty obvious idea. Indeed, most learning management products are course/teacher focused – not helpful for students or advisors focused on the academic journey/program. Institutions, entrepreneurs and the Gates Foundation are getting this in the last few years – and a range of products are emerging. D2L acquired a product called Degree Compass that fits into this category. It is still relatively early days on this trend because there are many things to be worked out institution by institution. But, the motivation to do so is now apparent for those institutions that are either experiencing marginal success (due to the changing demographics of students and employment challenges) or looking to build new relationships with employers. One of the key buzzwords today in HED is competency-based education (CBE). Competency-based programs have become closed associated with being able to get college credit for life experiences/previously acquired skills. However, as educational systems evolve “competencies” (such as critical thinking, communications, teamwork) become the explicit components of describing the goals and progress of an educational path. But, I would also argue that ability to define and deliver on competencies that are relevant to specific partnerships with corporations (such as the much heralded partnership with Starbucks and ASU Online announced within the last year) will become a key competitive advantage for colleges in the future.

Trend #3: Gaming and simulation entries reinforce the power of games to improve student engagement through experiential learning

Eight years of Learning Impact Awards have produced an impressive group of medal winners in the educational gaming category. And, many have experienced some very excellent and mainstream games/simulations in niche areas such as graduate business schools. Yet, we continue to indicate in the Learning Impact Project Matrix that gaming/simulation in the educational sector is a ways off from being mainstream. The reason for this, of course, is that producing effective educational games that scale is expensive. The good news is that some of the award winners have been from institutions that indeed work at large scale, like Florida Virtual School. The matrix shows an interesting contrast in position with what has proven to be a learning impact leader: Adaptive learning and online homework. This category has been widely adopted due to the investment of publishers. Interestingly, we are now seeing products that feature programming frameworks that enable development of adaptive learning content. We have seen entries that have attempted to do the same for gaming and simulations. It is worth noting that there is an opportunity for publishers or institutions to invest in potentially scalable educational games/simulations. After all, isn’t this an obvious next vista for “educational authorship” beyond textbooks? 

 

LearningImpactProjectMatrix14  

Trend #4: Evolution of robust digital learning networks that are scalable and flexible continues thanks to learning platform innovation and open infrastructures

The “Digital Learning Networks” category has been a shining star of large-scale impact of technology in the LIA contest since 2007. This category covers groups of institutions (national level, state level, district level, ad-hoc consortia, etc) collaborating to build out some form of technology architecture that accelerates educational progress across the group. Gartner Group’s  July 2014 report on the Hype Cycle for Education covers something called “Exostructure Strategy” –  leveraging interoperability to enable more friction-less partnering – whose description includes several IMS standards as the enabling technology – as having transformational potential.  While we would agree with Gartner that this type of strategy is not mainstream in most institutions we would point out that this type of collaborative strategy has been very successful around the work for many years now – and is not especially difficult to implement from a technical perspective. The challenge is really cultural. A great example of an emerging collaboration of this category is Unizin – institutions cooperating to put in place a framework to ensure they can share content and leverage data.

Trend #5: Scaling pedagogical knowledge and practice to help teachers innovate in the classroom is gaining significantly in K-12 via new digital platforms

What is your digital curriculum strategy? What will become the core learning platform in K-20 by the year 2020? What does sharing pedagogical knowledge have to do with digital curriculum strategy and learning platforms? Everything. Luckily K-12 education understands the need for professional development. Unluckily, higher ed does not. Who is responsible for developing the K-12 teachers? Higher ed. Whoops! Many, many higher ed institutions have put in place web sites for faculty to collaborate – but, these efforts have stalled out due to the cultural issue of faculty independence. K-12 is now taking the lead in digital curriculum – because it has to – and it starts with helping the faculty make sense of the options available in the digital world. Since most K-12 districts invest more in curriculum than information technology it makes huge sense that the products to help faculty in this regard are accelerating. Learning platform support for professional development, including sharing of pedagogical knowledge is a key improvement area for the future. Whether or not this will be accomplished via plug in learning tools or apps versus the core platform remains to be seen.

Clearly the future is coming. Wishing you the best of luck in being an important part of making it happen.

All five of these areas have some pretty obvious effects on each other. We will leave that as homework for the reader ;-).

“Alignment” is especially challenging in the world of higher education. Alignment of interests and direction is very difficult to achieve within a university structure, which have evolved to what Clark Kerr termed as the “Multiversity” (a collection of diverse communities under one umbrella).

Alignment, it would appear, should be even more challenging across universities.  However, there are forces at work, for instance community interaction via organizations like EDUCAUSE. Indeed, some theorists have postulated that independent institutions evolve to very similar structures not through “top down” leadership but more through practitioner community effects (a theory known as institutional isomorphism). So, in practical terms, one of the reasons why most CIOs at colleges and universities seem focused on similar priorities is because they all talk to and influence each other via groups like EDUCAUSE.

For almost a year now IMS has been talking about something we call “an architecture for educational innovation.” What we mean by that is a community owned, developed and supported set of interoperability standards that make educational applications plug and play with each other and thus allow the focus/investment to be primarily on innovative apps rather than infrastructure. This concept started achieving clarity in the Abel, Brown, Suess EDUCAUSE Review article from October 2013, A New Architecture for Learning.

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IMS Global does not bring all the things needed for the architecture to materialize: Far from it. IMS brings one small but absolutely critical piece, which is an organization via which institutions and suppliers can co-create, evolve and sustain the required interoperability (call them standards if you like – but ease of interoperability is what is required, versus standards per se). Organizations such as Internet 2 bring the cloud-based infrastructure that is so critical to offloading the infrastructure concerns. Organizations like EDUCAUSE Learning Institute and the larger EDUCAUSE bring the leadership needed to make it happen.

Here are my (admittedly subjective) take on some of the notables from EDUCAUSE in priority order (most important first), with the relevance to beginning alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation:

  • Unizin:  The first of it’s kind consortium among large R-1 universities to enable sharing of content and data announced adding several new members. This is a very serious effort, reflected by the $1 million membership fee for each university, and at the heart of this effort is reliable and efficient interoperability to enable the sharing regardless of what products are used.
  • EDUCAUSE Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE): A new, potentially well-funded effort (sponsored by the Gates Foundation) to envision and take tangible steps toward enabling a more comprehensive view of what today would be the learning management system (LMS).  It is clear from the focus group of 50+ leaders that occurred at #edu14 that interoperability  and the flexibility and access to data needed to improve instruction is clearly among the top three enablers for this effort. And, this interoperability will go well beyond the LMS (which despite its many detractors is typically the most open and interoperable system on campus today).
  • Diana  Oblinger: Diana received numerous well-deserved recognition at what will be her last EDUCAUSE as CEO per announced 2015 retirement. Diana has turned out to be a great fit for EDUCAUSE CEO, leading an enormous rise in stature over the last six years.  However, the real news item here is that during Diana’s tenure EDUCAUSE revenues of more than doubled to over $35 million annually. How many commercial product suppliers have had that level of success during the same period? As with the prior two bullets regarding Unizin and NGDLE this success can be interpreted as increasing leadership from the institutions in driving the direction of technology.
  • Campus Computing Survey: Once again “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” was ranked most important. The future of educational IT is not about “locking the faculty down” – it is about enabling better, more innovative instruction.
  • Kuali project:  There was hubbub at EDUCAUSE about this well-known open source ERP project adding a commercial spin-off which included questions about what would remain open source.  In the architecture for educational innovation diversity and innovation go hand-in-hand. This includes (very importantly) diversity of business models. We see the evolution of Kuali as just one more example of the need to find a path that leads to sustainable innovation. If you’d like everything with respect to education to be free, then please begin with your own salary.
  • Mobile-first products: In the last few weeks, including at EDUCAUSE, I’ve spoken with at least five suppliers relatively new to the education space, touting their “mobile-first” strategy – meaning the solutions were built from the ground up to support mobile devices as the primary interface with the ability to work well in the “consumer world” of diverse platforms, apps, etc.  How this consumer world interoperates with the more closed world of educational systems and institutions is a problem that requires agreed upon interoperability to address enable at scale. There is great opportunity for those organizations that can work with IMS to begin to plug some of these gaps – and it is beginning to happen.
  • Gartner Group:  Albeit not released at EDUCAUSE, Gartner’s July report on the Hype Cycle for Education covers something called “Exostructure Strategy” –  leveraging interoperability to enable more friction-less partnering - whose description includes several IMS standards as the enabling technology – as having transformational potential.  Since Gartner has had literally zero interaction directly with IMS, it is clear that this is a trend that their institutional and supplier members are telling them about.
  • University of Central Florida: We were blown away by UCF’s LTI app development work – and their leadership in getting the message out on how institutions can and should be realizing the architecture for innovation/exostructure strategy!

 

What do you think? Beginning of alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation? Here are the intro slides from our IMS panel session on the topic.  

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