Time, Space, Path, and Pace: Leveraging Technology for Customized Learning

Blended learning creates new opportunities for students and districts
By: | Issue: April, 2015
April 1, 2015

When resources are scarce and distances are vast, how can school districts leverage curriculum, technology and instructional support to deliver customized learning that breaks the industrial-age barriers of time, space, path and pace? In this web seminar, originally broadcast on February 19, 2015, an administrator from TIE (Technology and Innovation in Education) in the Black Hills Online Learning Community in South Dakota discussed how the organization is leveraging online learning resources to create customized and blended learning opportunities for students.

TIE (Technology and Innovation in Education)
Black Hills Online Learning Community (S.D.)

Our vision for customized learning is that every day we would meet every learner with experiences that do four things: We want to meet them at their readiness level. We want to frequently accommodate their personal learning style. We want to do that with content of interest. And we want to design learning that’s intrinsically motivating. This is impossible to do in a 1-to-25 environment without any technology support. We want to leverage technologies to engage learners, and we want for every learner, every day, to feel challenged, to feel successful and to be eager to learn again tomorrow.

At TIE we help schools move toward a more customized and personalized learning environment where we can vary time, space, path and pace, and we help to make learning more performance-based. In order to do that, we partnered with Fuel Education, because their mission is very similar to ours. They want to fuel personalized education to transform the educational experience. Their mission helps us accomplish ours. For many schools in our rural state, limited resources mean that they often lack the flexibility to offer many of the things that larger schools do. But with our Fuel Ed partnership, we can now offer things like Japanese or Mandarin Chinese language courses, or courses in gaming and programming, that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

What stops schools from moving down that continuum to customized learning and online learning are what I call the weight-bearing walls of industrial age systems. We need to change and restructure some of these weight-bearing walls in order to support systems to accommodate customized learning. Weight-bearing walls hold us back in the industrial age, where we’re doing things at a specific time, at a designated space, at one path, and at one pace. So how do we move forward and out of that industrial age? Let’s think about those variables of time, space, path and pace.

Time. When does the learning have to happenÑare we confined to the normal school day? We know that teenagers would learn better if we didn’t start school until about 10 or 11 in the morning and we went till 6 or 7 at night. Why are we restricting them to time that is administratively convenient?

Space. Where does the learning occur? Must the learning facilitator always be physically present in the same space as the student? Path. How is the path to learning the objective determined? Who gets to decide? Is it always teacher-directed, or are there more options?

Pace. Do the fast runners get to run? And what are the options besides teacher pace?

We started the Black Hills Online Learning Community three years ago. We started with about 50 students, and we purposely started very small because sometimes engaging in online learning can be a little scary for people. We’ve established very good relationships with our schools, so our program has grown exponentially. This year we have about 225 students in grades K12. Most of those are doing all of their work at home online. Some of them are in the classroom, where they are taking a blended approach and engaging in some of those courses that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to in a rural state like South Dakota.

Senior Client Service Manager
Fuel Education

Many of us have taken an online college course, have experienced a webinar-based environment, have participated in meetings via a phone or web-conferencing tool. As adults, we’ve participated in many learning activities that don’t involve a live person sitting next to us explaining what they want us to know. Yet when it comes to education of K12 students, many reject the idea that students can be taught without a physical teacher in the room.

Being able to email the teacher and talk to the teacher on the phone or via web conferencing, and being able to interact with them through online discussions and journals, allows students to open up and engage with their teacher and the content in a way that many of them never experienced in a traditional environment. At Fuel Education, we strive to create courses that encourage that student and teacher interaction. And we provide multiple avenues for the teachers and students to connect.

When I asked students why they like online learning, one of the key pieces of feedback I received is that they love knowing how they are doing immediately. Even the best in-classroom teachers with the best intentions can’t grade assignments instantly, so many times students won’t even remember what the assignment was about by the time they get their papers back.

Online content is giving students immediate feedback, and giving them a sense of accomplishment and pride when they are able to improve their scores. At Fuel Education, we have developed a management system called Peak that helps schools give their teachers the information they need about student performance. Peak was designed to allow administrators, teachers and parents to monitor students and to easily track where they are in their courses. The system is very visual, so at a quick glance you can see the trends across students and drill down to a granular level and know what an individual student is struggling with. We currently partner with Khan Academy, YouTube EDU and Encyclopedia Britannica, and we incorporate that into our content so that teachers can not only assign these resources to students, but also have the ability to track them. And with our Peak classroom system, teachers are able to monitor whether or not those education resources are being successful.

As far as the path, it’s very difficult for teachers to vary path for students in a 1-to-25 ratio. But online and blended learning enables teachers to have students on multiple paths in their education. It also allows teachers to facilitate multiple grade levels within the same classroom. Each student is given a personalized learning plan to ensure that they master the content before they move on to the next concept, helping eliminate those gaps in their education, even if they need more time or work or are absent from school.

The last thing that I want to talk about is how online and blended learning can impact the pace of student learning. In a traditional environment, teachers usually determine the pace. Sometimes it’s in conjunction with a district calendar or something, but students often have no visibility into what’s coming next, or a map of the content of the entire course. In order for students to be able to pace themselves through a course and take ownership of their learning, they need to have everything laid out for them in advance. In our Fuel Education courses, the student follows a clear path. The learning objectives and the sequence of their assignments are all at their fingertips. There is never a question about where they need to begin, or where their path is leading them. The students are able to see all of those elements the minute that they actually move into those courses.

For more information about Fuel Education, go to www.getfueled.com.