Innosight Blended Learning Encyclopedia a True Wealth of Innovative Information

What can I say but, “Wow?” (I know, bad rhetorical question, because here goes….) All you education transformers out there should be aware of a new Innosight Institute report by Heather Staker titled The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models. Doesn’t sound that spectacularly exciting, I know, unless you have joined little education policy geeks like me in catching on to the hugely important trend known as blended learning.

And this snippet from Staker’s introduction gives you just a taste of what I mean:

Online learning appears to be a classic disruptive innovation with the potential not just to improve the current model of education delivery, but to transform it. Online learning started by serving students for whom there was no alternative for learning. It got its start in distance-learning environments, outside of a traditional school building, and it started small. In 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. But by 2010, over 4 million students were participating in some kind of formal online-learning program. The preK-12 online population is now growing by a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent—and that rate is accelerating….

This paper profiles 40 organizations that are blending online learning with brick-and-mortar classrooms. These represent a range of operators, including state virtual schools, charter management organizations, individual charter schools, independent schools, districts, and private entities. The organizations profiled in this paper are not a “top 40” list. Thousands of other schools are currently participating in blended learning and may have superior programs.

Among the diverse list of profiles are a few I have introduced to you before, such as Rocketship Education and Carpe Diem Collegiate. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any blended learning models that serve Colorado students.

Overlooked was the variety of blended learning options in Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado’s largest district. To learn more, you can listen to an informative podcast with Judy Bauernschmidt, Jeffco’s director of student online learning. But cleverly, Innosight has made it possible for blended learning operators to share their own profiles, so hopefully Jeffco and others follow suit. (It’s important to note that the state of regulations in Colorado make it much easier for a school district to provide innovative blended learning opportunities within its boundaries than for other operators to compete. Maybe we can help change that?)

All in all, the new Innosight report looks like the closest thing to a blended learning encyclopedia out there — which is kind of ironic, since the same disruptive technology driving this K-12 innovation killed the old hard copy encyclopedia business. (Or so my much older friends in the Education Policy Center have told me.) It’s not really like Wikipedia either. But you get what I mean. There just isn’t anything else nearly so comprehensive or informative out there.

And how could there be? Blended learning truly is growing so quickly it’s hard to keep up. But the excellent thing about the new Innosight report is that it captures a cross-section of the diverse manifestations of emerging programs. Good luck finding any two programs that are the same, not only based on who operates them (state vs. school district vs. charter vs. private and independent), but also on how much content is delivered online vs. offline and how much learning takes place at a brick-and-mortar school vs. home or another off-campus location.

Then there’s the variety of tools used to run the schools and deliver the programs, such as:

  • Content and curriculum providers (only one system, or mix-and-match?)
  • Student information systems
  • Learning management systems
  • Gradebooks
  • Assessments
  • Other technology tools

Talk about a field ripe for study, and more importantly, ripe for effective innovation. (That’s a great reason not to be able to keep up with all the developments going on!) Time for Colorado policy makers to scale back the regulations on inputs while holding the standards high for results. After all, I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: As digital learning opportunities expand, program quality should follow, too.