Monthly Archives: November 2014

Designing a Place for the PK-12 Student in Our Social Network

A recent article in the Chronicle by Judith Shapiro, The Value of a Shared Education, laid out the principles of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as part of an intriguing discussion on trends in college curricula. The main question Shapiro poses is “To what extent are undergraduates moving through overlapping though largely differentiated networks, and to what extent do they share experiences, priorities, and goals?” Shapiro walks us through a series of considerations including individual achievement, the current interest in competency-based education, and the impact of information technology on how young people interact with one another.

When we think of changes in higher ed nowadays, most people go directly to the challenges of integrating or competing with technology itself. Shapiro brings us back to the more critical question of how we are guiding people through their intellectual pursuits as they move closer to adulthood and the workplace. Similarly, we should be re-examining how we are guiding our PK-12 audience prior to their entry into college. How do curricular practices these days impact on how the PK-12 student sees herself as part of society?

Our thinking on this goes beyond standard socialization practices within the classroom and playground to the greater scope of ongoing learning activities that have or can be incorporated into today’s curricula. Some best practices for consideration:

Blend the curriculum to balance group and individual learning activities.

Today’s blended learning designs included personalized, peer-to-peer and teacher-led activities. Students learn on their own, and receive automated feedback and personalized teacher support; they learn from their peers in small group activities or as a whole class with teacher-led activities. The range of activities in a well-designed blended learning program represents both individual and group learning.

Build more Maker activities into the curriculum to build esprit de corps.

Project-based activities that require team cooperation in the design and production of a final product can develop both individual competencies as well as team strength. More time spent on these group activities earlier on in the process will pay off later on.

Bring in the experts to provide a range of role models.

Practicing scientists, designers, chefs, etc. can all play a part in knowledge and skills development in PK-12. By increasing the sphere of expertise in the classroom, and by working on projects requiring shared expertise, the PK-12 audience can start building their network early on. These experts may bolster existing curricular units or might be part of the extended projects referenced above.

Learning design in PK-12 is evolving to a point where students can more effectively develop their individual capabilities while playing an important part of both school and extended society. While the argument can be made that “socialization” has always been a goal in the K-12 curriculum, it can also be said that with the intense competition of the past decades, the race for success tends to silo learners from a very early age. We can use our design skills to create the type of curricula that supports the concept of shared success from the start.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on learning design and social impact.

Mentoring for a Better Blend of 70:20:10 in Education

Advisement has received increased attention these past few years in large part due to relationships between performance (meaning retention and graduation rates) and federal funding. Interest in the role of advising at the college level prompted us to examine the state of the state in the world of education through a 70:20:10 lens. Whatever the current impetus, the results of increased advising could and indeed should impact positively on those students. Even better would be an increased focus on mentoring to support learners through the educational journey that eventually leads to employment.

Advising or Mentoring?

Over the years, many institutions of higher learning have “shifted the metaphor” from “advising” to “mentoring,” as this informative piece from Penn State explains:

“In our current historical moment, as we struggle with potential decreases in enrollment, increases in tuition, and a shift toward skills-based programs (Levine and Nidiffer, 1996), we must consider how we can help our students successfully complete programs of study in a timely manner and provide them with the tools they need to be successful in life as well.”

So, “mentoring” implies support that may include but clearly goes beyond traditional academic advising. There’s a couple of areas that are particularly important to the discussion of the evolving role of education these days.

Expanding Access to Expertise Along with Access to Information

As technology has provided us with ever-increasing access to information, the guidance required to effectively sort through and vet that information grows as well. Today’s teachers are needed more than ever to provide the support required to help students become discerning information seekers and decision-makers. Subject matter expertise plays an important role, but mentoring can take students beyond “capable” to “thoughtful.”

Informal Learning, Higher Touch

When we consider the best blend of learning to take today’s students to tomorrow’s world of employment, a very good case can be made for increasing the amount of informal learning that can occur within the mentoring relationship. Just as today’s workplace is seeing an expansion of the role of informal learning, so too should the world of K-16 look beyond the classroom. Today’s collaborative partnerships between the public and the private sector make the time just right to support:

  • Students in seeking out these relationships.
  • Schools in providing much needed resources.
  • Businesses, for investing in their own future.

Role of Technology in More Targeted Mentoring

There are plenty of tools that can support mentoring throughout the educational cycle. Companies like iMentor provide both the platform and the resources to support a volunteer network of mentors supporting students as they make their way through the college search process starting in the first year of high school. csMentorbills itself as an “adaptive college retention program” that helps first year students make the adjustment to college life through a series of targeted videos and regular surveys that both instruct and measure students’ responses to the challenges of college life. Chronus Mentor helps organizations facilitate the mentoring process through built-in workflows, guided engagements, etc.

In all these cases, technology can support the process but is not meant to replace the interactions between students or employees in the mentoring relationship. We can extend the relationships through carefully designed interactions, supporting resources and valuable tracking tools. As Sonia Sotomayer said “. . . a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.”

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on the role of learning design across the continuum of the educational experience.

Putting Failure to Work in Education

My own educational philosophy is deeply rooted in the concept of learn-by-doing and an understanding of the role that failure plays in learning.  So, when the New York Times came out with its annual “Innovation” issue cloaked in the premise of failure, I was very interested. Adam Davidson’s “Welcome to the Failure Age” develops a curious, almost distasteful, narrative around failure through the metaphor of the Weird Stuff, the Silicon Valley reseller that has built its own success in large part off the failures of the high tech industry.  Don’t misunderstand me. It’s brilliant (both the idea behind Weird Stuff and Davidson’s depiction of it), but the entire piece takes on a somewhat post-apocalyptic hue that doesn’t map to my own . . . appreciation of failure.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the role failure can play and believe that it’s time to put failure to better use in education. In the initial stages of my professional life, I spent 15 years teaching in a well-respected institution of higher learning where team teaching supported an environment of creativity, experimentation and continuous improvement. Quite honestly, failure was not highly tolerated, but the built-in mechanisms for peer engagement and feedback made for higher on-the-job learning curves.

Working for Roger Schank and developing simulation-based learning programs corporations and institutions of higher learning in the early 2000’s, I saw firsthand how technology-enabled instruction provides an incredibly safe means by which to leverage failure for positive learning outcomes.  Therefore, my own experience, from a practitioner’s and a designer’s experience, has made me keenly aware of the role that failure can play in the classroom and beyond in the ongoing evolution of educational practices.

We’ve seen change over the past few years but not all for the good. There are still some obstacles to the type of change that is needed in education. The failures of the past few years need to be leveraged in order to make room for positive change. In brief:

  1. Recycle MOOCs

I think Weird Stuff knows exactly what can be done with MOOCs. Let’s recycle the millions of megabytes of video and online quizzes and instead of those being the bulk of the course on their own, incorporate them into more of the high-touch, facilitated online learning programs we know people are really looking for.

  1. Lead with services rather than technology

There are fantastic tools being developed in the name of enhancing the learning experience, but let’s spend more time working with real practitioners understanding the root cause of today’s inefficiencies. Why build a better mousetrap if the mousetrap isn’t what we need?

  1. Revamp the school day

Given what we know about today’s workplace, it does not make sense to spend each of the current 13 years of school inside one building for 7-8 hours a day. Expanding the responsibility for learning beyond the walls of the classroom may be the single most important change we’ll see in the coming decades. It’s a 70:20:10 approach to learning that should be propagated throughout the entire educational continuum.


In his article, Davidson notes that “Education is facing the threat of computer-based learning posed by Khan Academy, Coursera and other upstart companies.” The threat that they pose is not in that their products will entirely replace what we know as education today, but they have shown us that people are hungry for change, access, enhancement, or revision of the status quo. But they themselves and all of the rest of us along the educational continuum have risked the potential for replacement if we don’t recognize and learn from our present failures.

For more on learning design and social impact, visit us at Designs2Learn.















How Design Thinking in Education Can Keep Software from Eating You

Software has deeply impacted my life as a teacher and learning designer, but it has not eaten me . . . yet. Here’s how I learned to protect myself.

After over a decade of teaching at the university level, I was fortunate enough to be targeted as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) for a series of online courses built in partnership with one of the world’s premier developers of scenario-based learning programs. My experience with the learning designers in that company built on my years of classroom experience and significantly contributed to how I think about teaching and learning today. It taught me more than my master’s degree in teaching had, too. And yes, I did end up leaving the ivory tower for the world of online development. After this second decade of developing online courseware and large-scale revenue-producing programs for corporations and educational institutions, I am still convinced that technology must be incorporated into the learning process on every level. But I remain convinced that leading with the software presents barriers to the innovation in teaching and learning that we all want to be part of.  Here’s a few reasons why.

  1. Software can address issues of access, but it doesn’t, on its own, replace the essential interactions that need to occur in order to facilitate successful learning.
  2. Software can support individualized learning, but it doesn’t, on its own, provide the blend of learning experiences that facilitate successful learning.
  3. Software can create an enhanced learning environment, but it doesn’t, on its own, provide the surrounding system of support that leads to successful performance once our kids move through the educational continuum to the workplace.

We need technology in education. But technology will not replace everything about education as we know it. We must work with the schools and other institutions of learning, whether formal or informal, to provide technology tools to optimize teaching and learning. This is already happening, to a huge extent, with the successful partnership of companies producing blended learning programs, professional development tools, gaming programs and more for the PK-12 market. Let’s not ignore the input and feedback of the homeschool and unschooling movements in the efficacy of these tools in those learning environments as well.

If anything is eating the world, it is probably design thinking. But I’d venture to say that designers wouldn’t say we’re eating the world but rather working with the world to make it better.

Stay connected with Designs2Learn for the latest on learning design for social impact. If you haven’t already read the interview with Ben Stern and Daniel Rabuzzi that got me ruminating on today’s topic, you can do so here. Visit Software is Eating the World for more from the folks who introduced this concept to begin with.

Meeting Veterans’ Needs with Continuous Learning      

Veterans Memorial DayI’ve been fortunate in my career to be able to work with and for veterans, developing blended learning programs in entrepreneurship. On this Veterans’ Day, I’d like to walk you through an educational model that we’ve found can support veterans make the transition from military service to entrepreneurship through effective learning design. One of the hallmarks of this design is that there are multiple points of entry and the engagement doesn’t end with the completion of a business plan like most programs do.

Prepare Your Audience

We know that many of the traits associated with entrepreneurship are characteristics shared by the vast majority of veterans. Both are:

  • Good risk takers
  • Results-driven
  • Able to persevere through challenging circumstances

So, many veterans will come to entrepreneurship naturally, and many will come “pre-loaded” with some of the traits that can help drive their success as business owners. There are others who may need support in exploring their career options prior to transitioning out of the service, or perhaps after the fact.

So a model program in entrepreneurship designed for veterans should include readiness assessments and preliminary modules defining the entrepreneurial process. These topics are ideal for a blend of presentation and scenario-style learning and can be offered online, taken as needed for those vetrepreneurs just starting out.

Address Knowledge and Skills Gaps

Once having decided on business ownership as their career option, veterans need to fill certain knowledge gaps and develop a specific skill set to ensure success. On the top of this list are tasks such as:

  • Researching the market
  • Marketing your business
  • Financial planning
  • Exploring the legal forms of business ownership

Working on an investor presentation and creating financial models are probably the most challenging tasks a new business owner needs to engage in. Facilitated instruction in real time in these areas can help your veteran audience connect the dots more easily and encourage questions and discussions to enhance the learning experience. Webinars are a great format for this and can be recorded for those who miss the session or want to review it later on. Guest speakers consisting of practicing experts can expand the circle of expertise.

Form an Online Community Consisting of Existing Business Owners, Investors and New Entrepreneurs

In order to ensure continuous learning, all the learning modules, resource material and access to experts and should be accessible through a single platform. From the time the vetrepreneur begins the journey and as he or she succeeds in one or more businesses, this is the place to come to access the support and tools to help build the business. As one veteran becomes a success, he can then mentor others on their journeys.  This can take continuous learning to a whole other dimension.

If you’re interested in such a program for veterans, please visit my friends at VetToCEO. Their next program starts January 20, 2015.

For more on how effective learning design can make true social impact, see us at Designs2Learn.






Meet Johnny’s Teachers

In my previous blog, This is a School that Johnny Wants to Attend, I wrote about Johnny’s new school, an environment designed to optimize real-world learning experiences to better engage and better prepare kids for tomorrow’s workplace. In that scenario, Johnny spent a lot more time out of the classroom learning from community experts and also had more people coming into his class to share knowledge and guide Johnny and his classmates through different projects during the school year.

A key component to this new model is the vital role of the teacher(s) as Johnny makes his way through the educational continuum from elementary to high school; on the college and finally, to the workplace.

Who are Johnny’s teachers and what do they do every day?

  1. Classroom Teacher

Johnny’s classroom teacher is integral to his educational journey. The classroom teacher plays a central role in his everyday life at school, is his main point of contact in the system, and provides the bulk of the instruction and facilitation within that environment. Whether the classroom teacher is leading a flipped classroom activity, reviewing an assignment with the whole class or small groups, or is sitting and assisting students one-on-one as they work on individual learning programs as part of the school’s blended curriculum, her presence and skillset is significant.


The classroom teacher also interacts with students on e-learning days when the kids are at home and working on individual or peer group projects and also accompanies her class on the majority of the out-of-the-building visits to neighborhood businesses, museums, etc. The classroom teacher interacts with all the other people on this list as part of a team of teachers supporting Johnny’s educational experience.

  1. Curriculum Curator

At Johnny’s school, each grade has a curriculum curator who is responsible for coordinating the activities that comprise his and his classmates’ daily learning experiences. This curator works with school leadership and classroom teachers to ensure that learning objectives are being met and that a good blend of activities is being used to achieve this. This includes working with the instructional teams to target effective online instructional materials and to arrange for mentors and visits to local businesses, museums, etc.

  1. The Library Media Specialist

Formally known as the school librarian, the library media specialist plays a vital role in Johnny’s education. As today’s students have more and more exposure to information, the library media specialist must provide the guidance that kids need to navigate the digital landscape, making careful choices and selections along the way.


The library media specialist works with Johnny’s teachers and the curriculum coordinator to help build curriculum using the latest tools at their disposal and makes critical decisions in the design of the library space, helping to turn it into a more collaborative, “maker” environment.

  1. Mentor

Johnny’s mentor might be a local business owner, a digital game developer, doctor, etc. and plays a vital role in expanding Johnny’s universe beyond the school building itself. As part of his course of study, Johnny sees his mentor on a regular basis, as well as interacting with his mentor online, and gets support for projects he may be working on, college and career exploration, etc.

  1. The Community

In Johnny’s new school, the community plays a more integral role in his education. Now, on a more frequent basis, during the school day, he and his classmates are visiting local businesses and learning more about how they operate and what the different employees do. As Johnny gets older, he will intern at one or another of these places to get more first-hand experience. Neighborhoods and neighbors have traditionally played, to different degrees, a role in the education of its community; in this model, we are looking to incorporate this informal role of support into the experience of each child in order to extend the universe of support and experiential learning that each child receives during his or her school years.

  1. Outside Experts

In Johnny’s new school, his classroom teacher and curriculum curator plan for a number of projects that the students engage in over the course of the school year. The projects may include building a model village, designing and creating new products for a specific industry, preparing certain types of meals, developing a simple computer game, etc. The projects are managed by a single or team of experts in their respected fields. Their work with the students may take place within the school or at a local studio, museum, etc.

  1. Physical Education Teacher

Physical education is an important component of Johnny’s new school, and his physical education teacher has an evolving role as do the rest of his colleagues. In order for Johnny and his classmates to develop an overall healthy lifestyle, his physical education teacher works with the rest of the team to ensure that the kids are getting a balance of health education and exercise that is integrated rather than isolated from the rest of the program. He might be teaming with the outside chef doing a unit on healthy, sustainable cuisine; or he might be exploring new technological resources such as “exergaming” with the curriculum curator or others.


As learning models evolve, classrooms are flipped, and schools develop healthier relationships with companies supporting the educational process, the role of teaching must evolve as well. A single classroom teacher cannot and should not shoulder the weight of the learning experience for any one child. And as the classroom teacher’s role changes, so do the roles of others within the buildings as well. As those roles grow, introducing more resources becomes vital. Just as corporate learning specialists have acknowledged the need for a growing network of continuous learning support in the workplace, schools are beginning to recognize the value of expanding the resources they work with to provide a balanced educational experience for our children.

This is a good thing for Johnny.

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on the changing educational landscape.


This is a School that Johnny Wants to Attend

school signJohnny is ten years old and has had his share of difficulties in school. He has a hard time sitting still for all of his lessons, and he can’t seem to focus on what the teacher is saying. He sits and stares at his worksheets in class and cries when his parents tell him to do his homework. He’s happier building model airplanes and playing video games. He appears to be disinterested in school, and everyone around him is frustrated and concerned.

I worry about Johnny, so I decided to design an optimal school for him. This school has:

  • More material that is introduced at home for homework. He accesses these lessons on his computer, working through interactive learning modules and videos, responding to online quizzes, all in preparation for a deeper dive in school the following day.
  • Less time in class listening to the teacher talking about a new topic, and more time asking questions of his peers and his teachers about what he reviewed at home.
  • Fewer days spent inside the classroom.
  • Some days at home or at a friend’s house on a designated “e-learning” day completing assignments online doing some individual assignments, and other assignments with a friend or two via Skype.
  • Physical Education programs that incorporate local sports clubs and self-guided activities geared to build confidence and individual accountability for one’s health.
  • Some days at a local business learning how paper is manufactured, cows are raised, food is prepared, architects build models, etc. In each grade, he is introduced to different industries and returns to some from previous years, building a more sophisticated base of knowledge throughout the years.
  • Museum days where he works in small groups on a long-term project lasting several weeks to several months.
  • Days at school, working in groups as his teacher walks around the room providing feedback; or working alone and getting one-on-one time with his teacher.
  • Days at school where different experts come into the classroom and work on coding projects, design projects, building projects, etc.
  • Service days where he volunteers with organizations in the community in activities that match or expand his own skills.

In Johnny’s new school, the responsibility for teaching is extended to a broader community of practicing experts, is enhanced by technology, and is individualized to further support his learning. His classroom teacher plays an ever important role guiding him through these experiences and providing feedback and support to reinforce learning from this wider range of resources. Teaching is as vital a role as ever in this scenario, but responsibility is shared with a wider circle of permanent resources providing more input into the experience than has been true in the past.

Some aspects of this new school are currently being integrated into curriculum across the country as teachers flip their classrooms and blended learning technology assists in the individualization of the learning experience. As partnerships expand with technology providers and practicing experts in a wider range of industries, curriculum design extends into a curatorial role within the PK-12 just as it has with learning and development teams in the corporate sphere. We back into the learning experience starting from the working world, providing over the PK-12 experience what learners need to know sooner and over a broader range of time. Yes, what people need to know changes all the time, but by extending the learning network to the community that includes the current workforce, the curriculum is more likely to refresh as needed over time. There’s less of chance of culture shock when people move on from PK to college and on to work. It’s 70:20:10 for the younger set.

I think Johnny has a better chance of being happier here as the lines between “school” and “life” become further blurred. He was never disinterested in learning, as he was teaching himself all the time. He has more opportunities to participate in and drive his overall learning experience, and more of a chance of making an impact on the world one step at a time.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on learning design for social impact.

Thank-You, LinkedIn Readers, for Recommending Solutions to Educational Woes

Group of Business People With Speech BubbleOur post last week, “Why Not a 14 or 15 Grade to Better Prepare Our Students for the Real World?” elicited fairly strong responses from our LinkedIn readers. To be clear, the title was rhetorical, which some people seemed to get and others . . . not so much. We do not favor adding more years to the high school degree, even if it includes a first year of community college study. Not surprisingly, nearly all responses were also opposed to adding additional years to high school. We’re glad to see such passionate responses and thought it would be useful to present a summary and highlights of recommendations for improving the educational experience for this and future generations of learners.There’s some great ideas here.


There were a wide range of backgrounds and professions represented by the people who chose to comment on the article. Of the 71 people who commented, 18 are identified as teachers or involved in the field of education, 5 are students, 3 lawyers, 2 involved in law enforcement; and the rest in a range of industries from healthcare to software development either as practitioners, managers, or business owners.

We divided the comments into the following categories to best summarize the recommendations readers made in response to the blog. Those comments that did not contain a specific recommendation were categorized as “Miscellaneous.” Some comments could have gone into more than one category but were counted in just one.

All comments can be reviewed as part of the original post.

Provide More Real World Practice

Twenty-six of the reader comments called for more real-world practice being incorporated into the curriculum, and in some of those cases, less time in the classroom and more time out in the real world. Some readers called out the difference between “education” and “training” and called for more hands-on learning, starting earlier on in the process. Specific recommendations included high school ”co-op” programs in partnership with local businesses, more time spent on volunteering/service, apprenticeship programs, and travel.

Three comments focused specifically on the need for training in finance (while finance was referenced as part of several other responses as well).

Fix the Curriculum

There were 19 comments that called for changing the way the current system works as opposed to adding on to it. Not all of these comments included specific recommendations, but those that did called for less time on tests and more on building critical thinking skills; the need to introduce college prep earlier on in the process; less repetition of content; and more practical classes, such as first aid, CPR, map reading, and managing finances.

Look at the Ontario 13 Year

Seven readers referenced the 13 year (or “Ontario Academic Credit”) in place in Ontario schools from 1921 until 2003. While some comments regarding the OAC were positive, noting the benefits of the extra time and attention to prepare for more advanced study, others claimed that the extra time did not adequately prepare them for university. OAC was discontinued due to a lack of funding.

Decrease, Not Increase, the Number of Years

Four readers specifically called for fewer years of compulsory education, in one case replacing one or two years with apprenticeships; in another, substituting the final year or two with trade school if that is the student’s choice. Another recommendation was made to remove eliminate summer break and cut down the required years to ten.


Very few people are looking to lengthen the number of years that our kids spend in high school, but everyone feels improvements need to be made in the current framework. While a few people specifically recommended fewer years than what we now require, most people are looking to enhance the experience that kids have by adding more experiential, practical and hands-on learning. Many people also advocate more time out of the classroom, participating in internships, apprenticeships, or co-op programs. Financial literacy was also a popular theme.

We really appreciate all the comments and in particular the specific recommendations people had for improving the education of today’s and tomorrow’s learners. Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on designing learning for the changing educational landscape.