Digital Learning Utah

May 4, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lawmakers have been passing so many major reform bills in so many states that it can make your head spin. Tenure reform, collective bargaining reform, private choice expansion. Indiana, Oklahoma and Florida have all undertaken multiple major reforms, and a few more Big-10 states seem poised to join them. Sessions are far from over, but it is already clear that 2011 will set a new standard for K-12 reform.

One of the new laws already in the books very much worthy of note is Utah SB 65- The Statewide Online Education Program. The authors of this law drew upon the Digital Learning Now’s Ten Elements of Quality Online Learning to develop a very broad online learning policy. The law funds success rather than just seat time, has no participation caps and allows multiple public and private providers. The program starts for public high school students in grades 9-12 but then phases in home-school and private school students for eligibility. You can read the legislation here.

Last week at the Heritage Resource Bank, I was on a panel with William Mattox from Florida’s James Madison Institute. Mattox gave a fascinating talk about blended learning from the perspective of a parent. Mattox related that he and his wife have been home-schooling, but that their son had been taking a couple of online courses as well. His son decided to join the baseball team of his district school (Florida allows such participation, and it netted their flagship school a Heisman Trophy and national championship).

When his son joined the baseball team, he learned that there were other players on the team doing the same thing. Far from being unusual, this customized learning approach was old hat. It was a very compelling talk, and exactly where Utah is heading. This is the first important step towards Tom Vander Ark’s bracing prediction:

Weʼre headed for radical choice–not just school choice but choice to the lesson level. Weʼll soon have adaptive content libraries and smart recommendation engines that string together a unique ʻplaylistʼ for every student every day. These smart platforms will consider learning level, interests, and best learning modality (i.e.,motivational profile and learning style to optimize understanding and persistence).

Smart learning platforms will be used by some students that learn at home, by some students that connect through hybrid schools with a day or two onsite, and by most students through blended schools that mix online learning with onsite support systems. Choice between physical schools will increasingly be about the learning community they create in terms of the applications and extracurricular opportunities and guidance and support systems. Families will gain the ability to construct a series of learning experiences that fit family needs, schedules, preferences, and interests.