The promise of new technologies to transform education by delivering learning that is personalized and engaging for each student has caught the attention of educators, parents, and policymakers.
Because all students learn at diﬀerent paces and have diﬀerent levels of background knowledge and conceptions about topics, digital learning oﬀers a unique way to oﬀer customized solutions.
But looking around the globe, it’s hard to argue that the actual impact of technology has lived up to its transformative ambition in education. The United States has spent well over $100 billion equipping schools with technology with relatively little to show for the investment. Peru equipped 800,000 of its public school students with low-cost laptops for over $200 million – and the eﬀort ﬂopped. Countries in Asia are digitizing their course materials without a clear connection to how it will expand access to learning or will improve the quality of education.
The issue is not the technology, however. It’s the failure to understand the process of innovation and then create a strategy that allows an innovation to solve the problems we face and transform education.
That schools have gotten little back from their investment in technology should come as no surprise. Almost every business and organization has done the same thing schools have done when implementing an innovation. It’s close to a natural instinct to cram an innovation into its existing operating model to sustain what it already does, but not fundamentally transform it.
The ﬁrst rule is simple, even if it is counterintuitive. Do not start with the technology!
Instead, schools should follow a tried-and-true design process to innovate successfully. The ﬁrst step is to identifying the problem to solve or the goal to achieve. Some problems relate to serving mainstream students in core subjects, while others arise because of gaps at the margins—where schools cannot oﬀer a particular course, for example.
In either case, though, the problem or goal must not be about technology and lead to a deployment of technology for technology’s sake. With the problem or goal identiﬁed, it is important to state it as; speciﬁc, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-related.
One common mistake is not bringing the right people to the table to lead the change. The result is that teachers are either stuck with tasks beyond their reach or too much bureaucratic oversight. Schools must match the right type of team and the right people to the scope of the problem.
Ensuring that teachers have opportunities to achieve, receive recognition, exercise responsibility, and advance and grow in their careers is critical. To provide teachers these motivators, institutions using blended learning are experimenting with extending the reach of great teachers, assigning teachers specialized responsibilities, employing team teaching, awarding micro-credentials for achievement, and granting teachers increased authority.
The next step is the one where technology and devices ﬁnally enter the equation. The objective is to design the virtual and physical setup to align with the desired student and teacher experiences.
Finally, teams should think through the physical environment in which students learn. Will the traditional factory-model school design enable students and teachers to be successful? Or is a more modular environment that enables increased customization desirable?
Blended learning is no patent solution. It’s a scalable strategy that can break the trade-oﬀs inherent in the traditional school design to allow teachers to reach students in ways never before possible. But for it to work, school leaders must not start with blended learning or technology for its own sake, but instead undertake a careful design process to unlock its potential.
Harvard Business Review