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Three Posts on Medium about Learning with Playlists and Badges

Author: Connie Yowell and Tom Vander Ark

Powerful Learning Experiences: Why All Students Deserve Access

By: Connie Yowell and Tom Vander Ark

Consider for a moment how access to learning experiences can vary dramatically for students. One student goes to a school where they regularly conduct research projects, they can freely work in the school’s makerspace, they compete on the debate team, and have a summer job with real responsibility. Networking and finding opportunities within the community also come easily to this student.

The other student spends their school day filling out worksheets, very rarely are they engaged in projects and action research, and their afterschool job is at a fast food restaurant. They’re passionate about graphic design but they have no idea how or where to turn to obtain those skills.

The equity gap in America starts as an experience gap. Oftentimes, many students from a low socioeconomic status and minority background lack access to the learning experiences that their wealthier and non-minority peers participate in. And yet in many communities, the learning experiences, especially out-of-school experiences, do exist it just becomes a matter of how to navigate them.

It is time for us to focus on eliminating the experience gap — to ensure that all students have access to robust in and out of school learning experiences which prepare them for the future of learning and work.

Six reasons powerful experiences matter

  1. Voice and choice build agency. Jonathan Rochelle, Director of Product Management at Google, thinks confidence is the most importantdisposition for the innovation economy. That starts with the ability to make some choices in what to learn, when and how. One example of this are the playlists that LRNG has developed which not only provide flexible learning environments but also provide students with a choice to turn what they’re passionate about into what they choose to learn. Playlists are curated into media-rich thematic experiences which students can progress through online and within their community.
  2. Active learning beats passive consumption. Students learn best by doing. Through collaborating with peers, engaging authentically with the learning material, and actively participating in learning experiences students deepen their independent, creative, and critical thinking skills.
  3. Taking initiative provides opportunity. Through authentic experiences, students learn to take initiative, to shape impact opportunities including projects, campaigns, and startup organizations.
  4. Extended challenges build priority skills. Students should not fly through every project or research experience with ease. By experiencing challenges or difficulties in learning, students are able to problem solve and apply critical thinking — skills that are essential for their academic and career growth. What’s more is they develop grit, resilience, and learn what it means to be successful, and persevere, in tough settings.
  5. Self-awareness develops in the face of diversity. Becoming self-aware happens over time and is developed by learning to read social situations, building relationships, and collaborating through difficult circumstances.
  6. Community connected experiences build social capital. Communities play an integral role in networking individuals to ensure that society thrives. LRNG recognizes the power of communities and is working specifically with cities and organizations to connect learning experiences to career opportunities.

It is clear that a broader set of learning aims are increasingly important and you can really only get at those from rich experiences. They aren’t something you could build in a traditional setting. For these experiences to be successful they must be designed in an intentional way and approached with a student-centered focus.

Experiences should be flexible, allowing students to engage with the content in ways that best suit their learning style. Flexibility also requires an innovative approach in that learning can truly happen in a variety of ways using multiple devices and mixed reality media. A student-centered focus also means that learning is geared towards students’ passions and allows them to make real-world connections to what they are learning, thereby increasing their interest and engagement in the experience. While all of these conditions may not be met with every experience, all experiences should include some of these elements.

Designing powerful learning experiences extends beyond the school day to include after-school time as well. In order to prepare for the future of work, students need exposure to actual work experiences that are rich and robust. From learning how to search, apply, and interview for work to developing skills once a job is landed, intentionally designed, work-based learning experiences such as internships, apprenticeships and summer employment allow students to begin honing their career skills and testing out their passions. The same criteria that apply for creating powerful learning experiences within school, are also applicable to work-based learning experiences.

Businesses play a large role in ensuring opportunities for students exists within their community and many nonprofit organizations often fill in the gap by not only providing students with the pre-work skills they need to land employment, but often times they also have developed partnerships with businesses to ensure opportunities for young people exist. This is the work that LRNG is doing with many of their city-wide partners, and we’ve also seen similar initiatives developed through the work Educurious is doing.

It is only by equalizing access to opportunities by providing authentic, student-centered, powerful learning experiences for all students that we will close the experience gap. If you are looking for ideas or ways to get started with this work, consider looking at LRNG and how they are providing innovative ways for young people to learn by connecting them with their passions, people, and pathways.

Utilizing the Power of Multi-Sided Platforms to Close the Equity Gap

By: Connie Yowell

When most people think of multi-sided platforms (MSPs), Facebook, Uber or AirBnB come to mind. MSPs provide their value by creating interactions between two or more customer or participants groups. We can easily see how the aforementioned platforms thrive in an MSP environment, but how do these platforms exist in the education field and what is their value? LRNG is one example, our platform allows our partnering organizations the ability to develop content and communicate not only with us as an organization but also with local youth. This ecosystem provides the backbone for powerful learning experiences which seek to close the opportunity gap that has been prevalent for many youths in our communities across the country.

Consider for a moment the resources and out of school activities that are available for young people in your own community. Perhaps there are local non-profits providing enrichment activities, libraries or museums that have makerspaces, businesses that are sharing career advice or even internships. Now think about how young people come to access all of those resources. Do they all have the same level of access, or even knowledge, of these activities? Research has shown that underserved youth are far less likely to have access to real-world learning experiences, leading to an opportunity gap that is feeding growing inequalities in access to good jobs, college achievement, and opportunities to be engaged in their communities.

This is where the MSPs enter and play a powerful role. The community becomes the learning opportunity and provides guidance first on how to navigate resources available, and then provides a roadmap (we call them playlists) that can help a learner grow in their passion areas. All of this is available because of the MSP platform. Through the platform, we are able to make a fragmented and difficult process of navigating community resources become easy, fun, and aligned to learner passions.

So how does the MSP work? Community organizations, schools and businesses develop digital and in-person learning experiences direct to young people allowing them to learn about and explore areas such life skills and career preparation, along with learning new skills they are passionate about such as coding, design, or beat making. While the MSP creates a central location for all of these experiences, it also means users can take control of their own learning by accessing the experiences at any time or place. This means knowledge and skills no longer have to be acquired solely at the school building. Beyond that, it means that competencies can be documented in ways beyond just a traditional transcript.

As users progress through their communities’ playlist they demonstrate mastery of content through various activities, and ultimately earn a badge. That badge is a digital representation of skills obtained and it can be displayed on digital portfolios, shared on social media and shared to resume sites such as LinkedIn. An underserved student now has the ability to achieve in school and more importantly, beyond in their communities, online and the world of work;.. And their learning is being recognized and digitally stored. This opens the door to learning experiences that our young people’s wealthier peers have been tapping into for quite some time: community, local businesses, and the power of networking. Imagine the game-changing opportunities that could exist if every community in the country provided such opportunities. We would essentially be working together to build the Learn+Work ecosystem of the future while creating a talent pipeline of young people who have workforce development skills and knowledge, while also helping to ensure they are prepared for participation in the workplace, community, and world.

We now have wonderful examples of cities, communities, organizations, schools, and youth building these transformative ecosystems. We will be sharing their progress as it develops. There are extraordinary challenges ahead, including how we manage the cost of these public/private endeavors, how we ensure we design in engaging ways for youth, and finally, what are the opportunities that matter most for youth and the future of work? We look forward to sharing our learning and hearing from you as we grow. Stay tuned!

Building on the Power of Digital Badges to Create Future-Ready Learning and Job Experiences for Students

By: Connie Yowell

Take a moment to envision what the future of learning and work will look like in the next 10 to 20 years. Do you see the current model of education and business existing as we know it today? Perhaps some elements will remain the same but almost everyone will agree there must, and will be, changes to the way students learn and the way work takes place. One of the trends that have been preparing us for the future of learning and work over the past six years is digital badging.

The field began to realize the power digital badges could have in 2011. At that time, I was working on the Open Badges project at John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and one of our grantees, the Mozilla Foundation started to mobilize the Open Badge movement. The purpose of the badge was to have a visual representation of the skills and achievements a learner possessed, which were grounded in verifiable data and evidence and could move across the learner’s platforms and networks thereby empowering them not only to take charge of their own learning but also highlight the learning journey.

Over the next five years, we continued to unpack the impact personalized learning experiences, such as badging, could have on learners and the education system. Digital badges demonstrated they had potential by enabling much greater flexibility in designing personalized learning experiences and allowing individuals to earn them in wide variety of learning environments after demonstrating competency. Knowledge and skill development and recognition of learning no longer had to take place solely in a classroom setting. This also meant that we needed to ensure two things:

  1. That compelling educational content could exist in these flexible formats.
  2. The field saw the value of learning (and thereby the badge) in these environments.

In 2015 there was a notable development with the rise of micro-credentials, especially for educators. Micro-credentials allow educators to take charge of their own professional development by demonstrating their knowledge on a subject through evidence which then leads to earning a credential (and a badge) that can be displayed in a digital portfolio and social networks. Micro-credentials for educators have been powerful for several reasons but two, in particular, stand out:

  1. This form of learning has challenged the traditional notion of “sits and gets” professional development. Instead, educators are able to curate their own learning and demonstrate it to earn a credential, all driven by what they are most interested in.
  2. With educators experiencing this transformation in the learning process, it is somewhat easier to see, and then design for, a similar learning experiences for students.

In 2016 we saw a shift in the community as the Badging Alliance became part of IMS Global Learning Consortium, and effective in January 2017 IMS Global “assumed the responsibility to lead the evolution of the Open Badges specification and to ensure the sustainability of the future Open Badges ecosystem.” Also in 2017, we saw a resurgence of badging as a learning strategy especially in the context of the future of learning and the future of work. This energy has continued in the first months of 2018 and it’s all for good reason: we know that digital badges are a game changer.

Badges open up a world of learning that many students previously did not have access to. Through badging students can take their learning outside of the school building, unlocking a world where they can learn skills that are of greatest interest to them or their future career, at a time and place that best suits their needs. Once the skill has been mastered it is captured in a badge which can be viewed in a digital portfolio that schools and potential employers can see.

This means that the traditional transcript, issued based on traditional modes of learning, is no longer the only way that skills and knowledge can be displayed. This flexibility in learning is not only important from a student’s standpoint but also from the standpoint of future employers. Take for example a 2016 Pew Research Center and Elon’s Imagining the Internet Centercanvassing on the “The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training” which found that experts believe new credentialing systems will arise as self-directed learning continues to expand.

What’s more is that according to those canvassed, while college degrees will still have importance in 2026, “more employers may accept alternate credentialing systems, as learning options and their measures evolve.” Employers realize traditional models of education are no longer the only way to obtain and demonstrate knowledge, and this increases access and opportunity for more youth to learn through a variety of methods and showcase that knowledge with evidence, such as digital badges.

In 2015 the Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted an online survey of employers and college students and the findings were similar to that of the Pew Research Center study. A key finding of the survey was that “Employers say that, when evaluating a job candidate, it would be helpful for them to have access to an electronic portfolio summarizing and demonstrating the individual’s accomplishments in key skill and knowledge areas, in addition to a résumé and college transcript.”

This history and the amount of change we’ve seen since 2011 is encouraging. LRNG is committed to the power of digital badging. We believe badges have an incredible potential to transform the future of learning and work for every student regardless of their zip code. With LRNG, cities can support youth in unlocking potential jobs, internships, mentorships and learning so those even furthest from opportunity get connected.

DMU Timestamp: May 26, 2018 14:45

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