K-12 Education

Embracing Digital Convergence in K-12 for Better Student Outcomes

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Many educators see the personalized learning model as the future of K-12 education. Personalized learning is the process of tailoring instruction to the individual needs of students, and ensuring their experience in the classroom reflects their unique learning styles, habits, and preferences. In a personalized learning model, students control the learning process, including the pace and way in which they learn. Students advance in the personalized learning model based on achievement, not the passage of time (like the traditional education model). For instance, student progress based on their ability to demonstrate new knowledge using the method that best reflects their intellectual strengths. Verbal learners may choose to demonstrate learning by writing a paper, while kinesthetic learners (those who learn by doing) by performing an activity. Personalized learning puts the student in charge of the learning experience, rather than the teacher.

Despite its promise, personalized learning remains a significant challenge for school districts, and few can provide it effectively. That’s because a personalized learning model requires substantial changes to traditional classrooms. These changes include eliminating grade levels, enabling students to pursue independent learning paths, and replacing teacher-centered instruction (lecturing) with student-focused learning. As many districts have discovered, supporting these changes requires a complete overhaul of their current design. However, when these changes are instituted over time and involve the collective participation of stakeholders, districts are able to see dramatic improvements in student outcomes.

Dr. Shawn K. Smith, a leading expert on personalized learning, presents the solution, which he refers to as “digital convergence.” According to Dr. Smith, digital convergence represents a multi-year framework for developing the appropriate systems to support personalized learning. Digital convergence is an ongoing effort that involves five major components of the education system–leadership, instruction, curriculum, technology, and professional development—over seven stages that chart progress over time.

Digital Convergence calls for:

• Leaders to articulate the need for personalized learning and set direction. This helps address fears and ensure stakeholders remain aware and prepared for significant changes to their daily work.

Instructional practices that put the student in charge and enhance their engagement in and retention of new learning. That means developing an instructional model where teachers facilitate the learning experience and students drive it.

• Digital content that (1) reflects new instructional practices, (2) provides students multiple ways of learning content (verbal, visual, kinesthetic), and (3) exposes them to the appropriate knowledge and skills they need at graduation.

• Technological infrastructure that ensures digital resources and learning remains accessible and available to students. This infrastructure should integrate the numerous digital resources districts use, providing students a seamless experience that enhances, rather than impedes, learning.

• Professional development and continuing education that teaches educators how to use new technology crucial to personalized learning. More importantly, however, teachers should learn the instructional practices that make technology beneficial to student learning.

Digital convergence can help districts successfully reach the destination for better student outcomes. Using the framework, districts can create the conditions for personalized learning to effectively occur and put it into practice.

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