Reflections From iNACOL 2014: Realizing the Future of Education



This week, more than 2,500 educators, experts, researchers, and policy makers have converged on the city of Palm Springs, California for the annual Blended and Online Learning Symposium hosted by iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. For more than a decade, iNACOL has been working to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success. Each year the symposium has grown in popularity with educators and schools from all over the country.

In her opening remarks on Wednesday November 5, iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick applauded the work that is being done around the country to change the face of education. Patrick spoke about the rise of blended learning and competency education and the need for policy makers to in the various states to develop student accountability measures that would match the philosophies of competency education. The crowd laughed as she stated, “if we are still measuring seat time, then we are measuring the wrong end of the kid!”

Vicki Phillips, the Director of Education for the College Ready in the United States Program, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about her organization’s ongoing efforts to scale up the concept of personalized learning on a global scale. She identified four pillars for personalization that schools must have for each student: Unique learner profiles, customized learning paths, competency-based progressions, and flexible learning environments. She spoke to the crowd, saying “we should face boldly the challenges that are in front of us. Keep on innovating.” She also cautioned the room by explaining that “cutting-edge strategies only make a difference when many, many children have access to them. We are here to bring personalized learning in mass to America’s students to help all excel. We want to learn from the innovators.”

During the lunch session, innovator Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, shared his story of how he harnessed the power of internet connectivity and access to provide video lessons to individuals, as well as content and embedded formative assessments to schools through the Khan Academy. What started as a way for him to tutor family members has quickly grown into one of the largest educational tools in the country, a tool that contains over 6,000 instructional videos, 100,000 practice problems, and 10,000,000 unique visitors each month. Khan emphasized the importance of a shift to opening access to a world-class education built on mastery and competency-based learning.

For the rest of the day and this week, iNACOL is hosting hundreds of workshops and sessions from leading experts on online learning, blended learning, and competency education. I, along with a team of school administrators from the Sanborn Regional School District in Kingston, NH shared our school’s journey to develop and support a K-12 competency-based grading and reporting system in a two hour workshop on Wednesday morning. Our model, which has been studied by iNACOL and by schools across the country, provides one blueprint for a better way to build a K-12 assessment system that meets the needs of all student learners.

In the afternoon, I attended a session on building competency to scale, the design of breakthrough learning models as part of the Breakthrough Schools Initiative in Washington, DC. Facilitators Margaret Angell of the CityBridge Foundation and Todd Kern of 2Revolutions shared how they are working with DC schools to reimagine learning and build a pipeline of innovators to redesign over the next few years.

On Thursday morning, attendees heard from Gene Wilhoit, the CEO for the National Center for Innovation and Education. Wilhoit spoke about the national efforts to bring personalized learning and competency education to the masses. He spoke about the need for a transformational shift from systems of schooling to systems for learning to advance the goal of college, career, and citizenship readiness for every child.

This week, the city of Palm Springs is honored to bring together our nation’s best and brightest, the innovators and pioneers who are already living in the future of education, a future that promises to personalize learning for all students on a global scale. I was excited to learn from these people and share their work with others.
 This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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