Given the tsunami of technology that we face on a daily basis—like what we are now experiencing in the tablet or mobile markets, for instance—it is not surprising that technology-based learning is getting a lot of attention these days. And most of the Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that I have discussed in earlier posts, for example, are typically all digital/online. But other innovative approaches underway take a more blended or hybrid approach. This post provides a brief discussion of two such initiatives, one in Silicon Valley and one in Los Angeles. Both are worthy of attention, especially by entrepreneurs who need to understand trends and innovations in the learning/education space.
The local example is led by Anthony Kim, President of Education Elements (EE), Inc., a Palo Alto-based firm which so far has raised around $10 million according to TechCrunch (http://www.crunchbase.com/company/education-elements). I had an opportunity to interview Anthony last fall for a research project I was working on and I am impressed by their vision and approach to helping schools become more effective places for learning—and the core and key element of their approach is to focus on what they call “blended learning.”
If you feel you don’t have a good understanding of what “blended learning” is, I strongly recommend visiting the website of the company-- http://educationelements.com/ --and check out their excellent video-based descriptions of their approach and what the various elements are of their model. In fact, this approach of using visuals (in this case produced by The Grove Consultants in San Francisco) to describing one’s vision and operations is something many startup companies should think seriously about as so many startups have a hard time articulating clearly what they do and what are the core elements that differentiate them from other firms out there.
As you would expect, even though technology is only one part of their approach, technology does play an important role in what EE does, including their Hybrid Learning Management System (HLMS). In a way, their HLMS can be seen as the “platform” that brings all the different pieces together and enables the management of all the different learning activities in the schools that embrace the blended learning approach.
One of the arguments that EE uses to explain why they have chosen the approach they use comes down to enabling greater flexibility and individual attention to each student to achieve more effective learning. This thinking is taken one step further by Hybrid High School (http:/uschybridhigh.org), a very innovative, new high school that Dr. David Dwyer--the Katzman-Ernst Chair in Educational Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California—has designed and founded and is now close to opening up. I have known David for many years and know he has both the educational and entrepreneurial credentials he needs to pull off this radical educational initiative. In so doing, he will creating the basis for scaling Hybrid High School (HHS) beyond Los Angles (and in the process, hopefully make a dent in the 50% dropout rate that exists in urban centers around the US).
As in the case of EE, HHS will use a mix of technology and face-to-face learning, but while EE is innovating around different configurations of their classrooms, HHS does away with (traditional) classrooms altogether. Instead, HHS relies on Learning Labs, Project Rooms, and Multi-Purpose Rooms that will allow much more flexibility in how students, teachers, coaches and mentors use the rooms for a variety of activities and learning tasks they will be involved in. And the rooms will allow for use of computers and other technology and for group and individual learning.
Another innovation of HHS is how students will learn—in addition to the extreme flexibility of whenstudents learn (as the school will be open 12 hours a day, 300 days/yr). And each student will co-design a personal learning plan with their advisor, and the learning plan will contain a flexible schedule that fits the students home and work situation. According to HHS, “while online courses help students master important content, USC Hybrid High also requires students to participate in both individual and group projects and internships. These activities will build skills necessary for success in college and careers.” And teachers and advisors will all know students and their personal situations (i.e. the social context for learning) much better than in traditional high schools, and therefore take this context into account as they advice students on how they can best meet their learning goals.
I think both of these examples represent very interesting and innovative approaches and models to transform many of our outdated learning and teaching methods used in most of our high schools today. Most of our schools have so far lagged far behind the pace of innovation and change we have seen in other parts of our economy. But the good news is that recent years have seen growing numbers of innovative entrepreneurs willing to tackle the many problems that so far have been seen as intractable. Hopefully David and Anthony will help set the pace for others “edupreneurs” ready to follow their examples of coming up with new and innovative learning and teaching models.