Rob Abel, Ed.D. | June 2021
"Just what you want to be, you will be in the end" —The Moody Blues
Holding Ourselves to a Higher Standard of Learning Impact
The 2021 winners of the Learning Impact Awards were recently announced. In this post, I'll give you some history on the awards and point you to a few of my favorites from among this year’s medal winners.
From early 2006, the term “Learning Impact” has been a shorthand at IMS for improving access, affordability, and quality of education. In 2007, IMS held the inaugural Learning Impact conference and Learning Impact Awards (LIAs) competition in Vancouver. The theme, Learning Impact, was a direct result of the 2006 decision by the IMS team and Board of Directors to embrace Learning Impact as the primary measure of success of the organization.
In 2010, the IMS Board crafted the mission statement that captures the full scope of IMS activities and reiterates how impact, adoption, and standards work together to grow the edtech innovation ecosystem. We began using the image that goes with the mission statement early in 2006.
The LIAs are uniquely IMS—nothing about the program was copied from any other source. IMS established a detailed rubric with eight categories of impact (including access, affordability, and quality) that are used by a neutral expert judging panel to select the winners. In the last few years, we have added the ability for the public also to vote. This public vote is equal in weight to only one judge—so there is no way to “stuff the ballot box.”
It is not easy to win a medal in the LIA competition. The typical “product pitch” does not even come close to what is required. Evidence of impact is collected and considered by the judges in the context of actual institutional use. Note that interoperability is just one of the eight criteria.
Generally, interoperability and the use of standards, in particular, relate to scalability. However, innovation does not require interoperability. The goal within the context of our full set of activities is that the LIA awards help us see the innovations with impact and then create the standards to help innovation be adopted across the ecosystem. This was especially true in the early years of the program, as it was rare to find an entry that fully endorsed standards. However, today, most of the entries are leveraging IMS standards, many at a massive scale. Thus, through the evolution of the LIA winners, we have seen the growing impact of standards over the last 15 years. This is exactly the virtuous cycle of innovation, standards, and large-scale adoption that we had hoped to establish.
IMS also analyzes the finalists, and in most years, publishes a Learning Impact Report. The purpose of the report is to take stock of where things stand with respect to the innovation trend categories that have come to the fore through the awards process. The LIAs look for evidence that an innovation is “crossing the chasm” into mainstream market adoption.
As I've discussed, I think a potential more specific set of goals beyond access, affordability, and quality, such as equity, agency, and mastery, will help the education sector focus on the key challenges that go more directly to the heart of the matter than the much-heralded mantra of “student success.” Therefore, while all the medal winners in 2021 are great, no one should be surprised that my personal favorites featured the equity, agency, and mastery themes:
Chicago Public Schools' Curriculum Equity Initiative
This project is a breakthrough in providing a scalable, culturally responsive, digital curriculum that can provide the foundation for customization, and thus equity, for a wide range of needs.
ECoach at the University of Michigan
It seems like every higher ed course should come with an ecoach which helps motivate agency with digital support that meets the student where they are.
Scaling an Equitable Access Program: VitalSource and University of California, Davis
One important aspect of equity in higher education is the trend toward ensuring that all students have access to all required resources in a digital format, a lesson from the pandemic that needs to carry over.
Class: Redefining the Virtual Classroom
While making the virtual learning experience substantially better may seem less important now that face-to-face is resuming, this winner defines an approach (potentially a new product category) that can bring the power of digital to the classroom (or hybrid or virtual) in ways that could improve the teacher’s ability to help all students.
Digital Graduation Predictor and Virtual Counselor
This project is a great example of how modern data architectures can be leveraged to get a better understanding of the progress of each student to help all succeed.
Learning Impact has been this “North Star” that has led to the 15+ years of growth of IMS discussed on our recently released annual report. It is the collaboration of the IMS member organizations making it all work!