While 2021 brought a new set of challenges to education, we can be optimistic about the year ahead and the opportunity to improve how we as edtech innovators, district administrators, and industry leaders support teachers and students. Adoption of personalized learning technologies is on the rise, efficacy is no longer a “nice to have” on checklists for schools and policymakers, and more learners and “learning guardians,” individuals integral to students’ education, have access to devices and broadband than ever before. As these consequential shifts have transformed learning both inside the classroom and in remote settings this year, here are three key trends we can expect for 2022 and beyond:
Prioritizing teachers as learners through job-embedded professional development
The most important factor in a student’s learning success remains their teacher. Many teachers are weary and dispirited after enduring arduous COVID-related challenges the past few years. School and district leaders, as well as their technology partners, should ensure that personalized and adaptive learning solutions cater to educators’ needs because they are learners too. Educators are witnessing rapid and, in some cases, permanent changes to learning, and when this pandemic eases, teachers will be ushered into a new world with new definitions of schooling, new expectations for learning technologies, and new and different kinds of partnership with remote learning guardians, including parents. To that end, we must focus on delivering job-embedded professional development that creates new ways to engage and inspire teachers while providing easy and efficient ways to help them capture, analyze, and act on learning data to accelerate learning for all of their students.
We cannot simply ask teachers to review spreadsheets with static data, spend precious time analyzing complicated assessment score reports and then expect them to be able to make meaningful changes in their classroom. This doesn’t work well for most teachers and isn’t scalable. Rather, educators must be empowered with new levels of training that will allow them to use digital tools that can surface clear, actionable insights in order to meet each learner where they are. This job-embedded professional development training should leverage real-time student information and tangible next steps that relate directly to supporting their students’ individual learning needs. This is a formative model that is dynamic, personalized and easily integrated into daily classroom practice.
Reimagining tutoring to focus on scalable individualized learning solutions that preserve teaching capacity
Across the U.S., there has been more interest and investment in summer school programs and tutoring. While these are solutions designed to personalize the learning experience for students, they are not scalable and require additional teacher resources at the exact moment when many teachers are retiring early or leaving the profession from exhaustion and worries about exposure to COVID. District and school leaders must move from a one-to-many or one-to-few model with tutoring and consider a one-to-one model of personalized support that is possible with proven-effective learning technologies.
A new breed of adaptive learning technologies can personalize learning in real time, provide embedded rewards that encourage and motivate student learning, cultivate curiosity and deep thinking and honor students’ humanity and sense of discovery. These solutions do not replace the need for educators, but they complement teacher instruction without asking much more from them. They also deliver an engaging learning experience, and provide learning guardians – administrators, teachers, parents, tutors – with better (and actionable) insights into their students’ academic progression and learning.
Rethinking SEL and embracing integrated approaches to supporting learners where they are
The world experienced collective trauma over the last two years. Particularly for students in under-resourced homes and communities, as well as the more than 175,000 children who have lost parents and primary caregivers to COVID-19, schools have had to learn to quickly adapt and to spend more time and effort on the challenges of providing support beyond academics. Social-emotional learning (SEL) inclusion in the classroom, like incorporating equity-centered protocols and frameworks in planning and discussions, should be paired with interventions and progress-monitoring as consistent and integrated practices. School and district administrators can expect to pursue solutions that deliver social-emotional support within their experiences so that students receive the support they need as they learn.
Education technology companies also play an important role in listening to our district partners who are prioritizing SEL and adapting our products to meet these needs. Some students’ senses of personal connectivity and self-motivation may have weakened in the early pandemic classroom, but education technology products can foster connections between educators and students to build students’ confidence, allowing them to take an active part in their own learning.
Despite the challenges faced by administrators, we should be inspired by the ways we’ve seen schools take care of students and families. As an industry, we must continue to support all learners – students, parents, teachers, district administrators – who continue to manage in a new era for education where blended learning is a powerful model for improving schools and student achievement.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson is President, CEO, and Board Chair of DreamBox Learning®. Prior to joining DreamBox, she held executive positions at leading edtech companies, including Blackboard, LeapFrog, and Kaplan. She has been a featured speaker at TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu, and the ASU GSV Summit, and Ernst & Young named her “Entrepreneur Of The Year®” in the Pacific Northwest region. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the University of Virginia.
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