Transition to a Digital Classroom

The traditional education model is being disrupted by a new technology laden model. In the few books I have read on the future of education, every expert predicts this transformation – where technology delivers personalized and adaptive learning, levels educational gaps, and centers on reaching competencies. In Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark summaries the advice of a public school CEO:

A perfect storm of reform… abandon seat-time requirements, stop buying textbooks, use open education resources on inexpensive tablet computers, and stretch staffing by moving students online for at least part of the day.[i]

Digital Classroom

Digital Classroom

Funding for education comes largely from property taxes, so wealthier communities have significant advantages over poorer communities; some of them include: scope of extracurricular activities, quality of teachers, and availability of learning resources. (As a high school soccer official, I have learned you can tell a lot about a community by the state of the school building and facilities and a general vibe from team members and the coach.) Vander Ark suggests considering funding education on a ‘per student’ versus ‘per community’ basis to address an achievement gap. Online learning is scalable and cost-effective so might help make education more egalitarian. Moreover, online and blended learning programs translates to less time sitting in a classroom at a school; therefore, some of the expense associated with maintaining a ‘brick-and-mortar’ facility goes away.

Vader Ark talks about the ability for students to learn at their own pace. Students who get bored in the traditional, sit at a desk for eight hours a day might get more stimulated by using online learning resources. Perhaps it becomes easier for students to graduate high school earlier; once students satisfy the required competencies they get a high school degree. Students might also take AP courses to satisfy college electives, which results in saving a couple of years of tuition. Other students might travel, intern, or participate in the community to learn more about themselves. (This extra time for self-exploration might be an effective way to address many students being immature and lacking focus with what they want to accomplish in college.)

Applying the Skills-Based Approach methodology in education makes sense for a number of reasons:

  • Vander Ark talks about ‘playlists’ in a curriculum. Students, teachers and parents participate in planning what skills a student needs and how to build them to reach a desired competency. The end result is a ‘playlist’ – a sequential, personalized, and adaptive learning approach.
  • Self-guided learning. There are no boundaries in building an expertise with a skill set. If a student identifies a core-competency or passion, he or she continues to build necessary skills online. The rigid, time sapping structure of subjects tied to grades is less relevant.
  • Competency based learning. Teaching experts all talk about the need to move away from learning based on grade levels where students are largely grouped based on age. Rather, students should learn based on how they learn best and what motivates them. It is more effective to tie competencies to the building and validating of a skill set – especially as students learn at varying rates and levels.
  • Gamification. It does not matter how students build skills, so learning through games is an exciting way to introduce intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Badges are an excellent ways to present and validate an expertise with particular skills. (Vander Ark discusses Tony Roland’s, CEO of Mangahigh, realization that “gaming was really luring kids into skills-based learning”.)
  • Plethora of online learning resources. Students might learn from online courses, games, social media communities, video tutorials, and digital media (e-books, whitepapers, blogs, articles, and slideshows). It is practical and efficient to think in terms of skills when you are building skills from many different sources.
  • Threads education and career planning. Skills are tangible, something you can continue to build and validate after you graduate from high school and college. Think skill sets throughout your life – education, employment, and other experiences.


[i] Tom Vander Ark (2014). Getting Smart: How Digital Learning Is Changing the World. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Latest Comments

  1. bfrischmann says:

    There is some legitimacy to this article in an ideal student model . Anticipating a typical teen response to more idle time is difficult at best, and seems impossible in the real world. It would be nice to think the general trend would be to intern or participate in functions which benefit the community, but I don’t think that would happen without a pre-planned path to start them on their way. Community involvement at all levels is a must, as we find that today’s young people have no clue as to how their lives are affected by government decisions, and how these edicts are implemented. On 1/2/2015 8:54 AM, TheProfessionalWebsite – Personal Professional Website wrote: > > TheProfessionalWebsite posted: “The traditional education model is > being disrupted by a new technology laden model. In the few books I > have read on the future of education, every education expert predicts > this transformation – where online learning delivers personalized and > adaptive lea” >

  2. TheProfessionalWebsite says:

    Absolutely, community engagement is a huge plus and sometimes overlooked by the typical high schooler. Getting that motivation is challenging (perhaps you are speaking from the viewpoint of a parent). But online learning is going to make our teenagers smarter, faster.

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