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The Opportunity of Recognizing Opportunities

Education leaders know that system transformation can be a challenging progression of ebbs and flows. Sometimes it seems evident that pockets of innovation all around us are coming together in support of student agency for personalization. However, delaying this positive growth are system structures, cultures and operations that continue to operate through the lens of industrial-era education systems.

That is why education leaders also recognize when opportunities arise to help advance system transformation. But it is easy to overlook these opportunities because we need to first see them as opportunities. As one example, consider the opportunity available for Ontario school districts to leverage a recent Provincial mandate requiring students to complete a minimum of 2 online credits to graduate.

Mandating e-learning can be favorably recognized for seeking to address the reality of e-learning as a necessary learning platform for students. According to Global Online Education Market Forecasts, an estimated 2017 global online market value of US$159 billion is projected to grow annually by 10%, conservatively reaching US$286 billion by 2023 pending the impact of advancements in artificial intelligence. With the normalization of online learning for post-secondary and adult students comes a responsibility for K-12 education systems to familiarize students with this learning platform.

We also know that making online credits mandatory will require support for many students who would not normally opt for this particular learning format. And the move to mandatory e-learning credits is happening at a time when student wellness is already at historically low levels due to aging cohorts of internet generation (aka "iGen”) students. As a result, school districts need to develop e-learning plans to identify and address the gap in student readiness for e-learning. There are different systematic ways of going about this.

Our industrial era education systems operate such that district plans for mandatory e-learning would be expected to occur from a program delivery perspective. In other words, e-learning courses would be offered to students who enroll and, once help is required, have their needs addressed through interventions. The term “intervention”, by definition, means that most students are expected to succeed within existing system structures. Help, in the way of interventions, is provided for students who cannot find success within existing operational structures.

In comparison, plans for mandatory e-learning in personalized education systems would occur in a way that uses student agency at the front end of, not a program delivery, but an integrated process. This is because student readiness for e-learning, connected as it is with overall wellness, will require personalized support with students with different anxieties, learning challenges, language and communication capacities. As such, Ontario school districts have an opportunity to use the mandated e-learning credit requirement as a framework to build capacity in this type of operational support.

Districts can begin by identifying the e-learning readiness gap of any number of students in advance of their participation in e-learning credit courses. Working with younger students now would provide more advance time than what is available for the first cohort of students required to meet the e-learning credit minimum. At the root of this longitudinal process is sharing of information - not to find answers, but to continually ask questions about how best to assist individualized student self-growth.

An inquiry approach keeps student information and perspectives at the forefront - with interest and curiosity driving incremental growth. Educational systems that adopt personalization through longitudinal inquiry can build trust and enthusiasm because people enjoy sharing information and ideas. Students and staff become motivated to self-growth when they see that their individual opinions and needs are being heard and responded to.

This motivation can cross over into numerous operations - connected with self-regulation, social-emotional learning, IT functionality and digital transformation, professional development, student information retrieval and communication protocols, to name a few.

In this singular example, it can be seen how the Ontario minimum e-learning credit requirement can be leveraged to advance systematic capacity for personalized service structures. Optimizing student success in e-learning is the end goal. Building personalized service structures that address the wellness needs of students is the means. Thinking outside of current systematic structures to recognize opportunities as opportunities is an important first step.

What opportunities can you recognize?

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