Disrupting Class: The Epilogue

After reading this post, you must download and read the Clayton Christensen Institute’s latest publication, “Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids.”

This year’s report from Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Heather Staker is the definitive follow-up to Disrupting Class, the 2008 tome that alerted many, including CLRN, that the online learning revolution was not only coming but that it would hit a tipping point in 2012/2013.  Disrupting Class is why CLRN changed course and began creating a review process for online courses three years ago.

eLearning did tip and now we’re faced with the question, “What’s next?” How will online and blended learning evolve over the next decade? Which forms are truly disruptive and which are stopgap measures that only sustain the same teaching and learning paradigm?

Following up from their 2011 and 2012 reports that provided a new and clear definition of blended learning and also reported about the four blended models they’ve observed, the theory of hybrids describes the journey we’re currently on. Having passed the tipping point and before we hit critical mass, they see a variety of paths ahead and they provide evidence of the paths that are in place. As it turns out, three of their blended models are proving to be disruptive, while one, which gained in popularity this year in CLRN’s California eLearning Census, is a sustaining technology , a hybrid technology, that allows traditional schooling to make use of online or blended learning. In the long run, though, it will be the disruptive blended learning models that will reform teaching and learning.

The Institute’s previous reports that provided a new blended learning definition and outlined the four models were important. They provided a common vocabulary we could all use. However, “the theory of hybrids”, for me, is their most significant work since Disrupting Class.

I’ll be writing much more about their report. It is THAT important. In the meantime, download and read it.


eLearning Census Infographic: How Districts Blend Their Learning

During the 2012 California eLearning Census, we were not surprised to find that the predominant blended learning model was the Self Blend (now renamed A la Carte). After all, eLearning was just reaching the tipping point and a significant number of eLearners were disruptors, those students whose needs weren’t being met by traditional schools.

In 2013, though, we’re finding that districts and direct-funded charters are becoming more comfortable with online and blended learning. Numbers of involved students have grown within each district and 34% were utilizing more than one blended model. When we disaggregated the data, we found significant differences between how elementary (k-8) and unified (K-12 and 9-12) districts were blending. Some of this data is listed below. The complete California eLearning Census Report may be found here.

We encourage you to join us at the 2013 eLearning Strategies Symposium that will be held December 6th and 7th at the Hilton Costa Mesa. Governor Bob Wise and Dr. Eric Mazur will keynote on Friday, December 6th. Early-bird registration is just $159 and groups of two or more may register for $149.

eLearning Census Infographic: Districts Planning to eLearn

Yesterday, CLRN published our second annual California eLearning Census report, a detailed look at how school districts and direct-funded charters are implementing online and blended learning in California. The report includes five, themed infographics and each day this week, we’re highlighting one on this blog. The entire report may be downloaded here.

While 46% of all districts and charters are implementing online and blended learning, we asked those that aren’t if they were currently discussing or planning to eLearn. While overall 26% said they were, the disaggregated data shows that 44% of unified (K-12) and high school (9-12) districts were actively engaged.



Don’t Create a Lousy Online or Blended Course

Online and blended learning, growing 20% to 30% yearly, have reached a tipping point. CLRN’s California eLearning Census, conducted between March and May this year, received responses from 30% of California’s school districts and direct-funded charters. While we found that 45% of all districts and charters are utilizing some form of online or blended learning, we were surprised that of those districts not currently eLearning, one-third were in the planning stages to create online or blended programs. Yes, online and blended learning are trending and many teachers and districts are jumping on the eLearning bandwagon.

 Flipped classrooms and the Khan Academy have received national attention as teachers place classroom lectures online and change classroom pedagogy to include project-based work. You may even be thinking of creating an online or blended course yourself. After all, you’ve taught for many years and you’re a master of your curriculum and teaching craft, so those skills should benefit you in creating an online course.

 Think again.

Remember how, during your first year of teaching, you spent countless nights creating lesson plans and units only to throw most of them away the following summer? Remember how difficult that first year was? Multiply that times 10 and you’ll have your first year of online or blended learning. I’m not saying, “Don’t do it.” I’m saying that you should go in with both eyes wide open, following the advice I’ve shared below.

We speak from experience. We know a lousy course when we see one. The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN), a state-funded technology service, reviews online and blended courses for their alignments to the Common Core standards, California’s original standards and to iNACOL’s Standards for Quality Online Courses, which we helped write. Under a new partnership with the University of California, online courses must be CLRN-Certified before U.C. will consider them for A-G approval. However, to date, only 25% of the courses we’ve reviewed have received our certification. So, if commercial publishers have so much difficulty creating a high-quality, engaging, and interactive course, what makes you so special?

By all means, dream large. Online and blended learning provide opportunities often unavailable in small and medium sized districts. Opportunities to take an AP course or any world language should be available to all students, not just those in large or affluent districts.  Begin with the end in mind, though.


Most successful projects begin with a thorough planning process that engages stakeholders, reviews research, and carves out a plan that solves a specific problem. Planning for online or blended learning is no different.

This year’s Keeping Pace , an annual census report and analysis of the online and blended landscape, includes a proposed 18th month planning process with specific tasks for each phase.  In the Systemic Planning stage, you bring together stakeholders and perform a needs analysis that asks: 1) What’s the problem you hope to solve? 2) What is your educational goal? 3) Who are the intended student groups? and 4) What are your district’s capabilities and desires?

That’s just the beginning, though, because before creating a solution, you also need to assess your technology infrastructure, your students’ and teachers’ technology skills, the availability of quality, standards-aligned resources, and teacher professional development.

But, assuming you’ve completed a planning process and targeted specific student groups or courses to affect, what’s next?

Normally, I’d suggest at this point a discussion about whether to build or to buy. Should you build courses from scratch (and do you have the capabilities to do so) or should you shop for quality courseware that you can pilot for a year or more?

But, you’ve already made the decision to create a lousy course, so let’s proceed.

Get Thee a Learning Management System

Whether you rent an existing course management system like BlackBoard or install an open source solution like Moodle or Course Builder, an LMS is a framework that contains your content, activities, and assessments, allowing you to track student progress and conduct online asynchronous and synchronous meetings. Whichever direction you choose, spend time mastering all the LMS’ components: installing curriculum, creating class rosters, embedding outside activities, and setting up discussion groups. Don’t start without an LMS, though.

Quality Content

Standards-aligned, engaging content can be purchased from a publisher, found in open source repositories, or created in-house.  With iNACOL standard A2 stating, “The course content and assignments are aligned with the state’s content standards..”, you want to make sure that the content you provide students not only teaches (demonstrates) a skill, but also provides students opportunities to practice and assess each skill or standard. CLRN’s reviews include these three components of each standard identified for a course.

Your textbook is not a course though. While textbooks are aligned with the standards and may include practice activities and assessments, placing your book online, be it commercial or open source, is amateurish, at best.

Quality courses will include text though, but not entire chapters printed screen after screen. The better courses CLRN have reviewed include portions of text mixed with video lecture clips, streaming video, simulations, games, and short formative assessments. Creating quality online lessons is a much more time-consuming task than creating face-to-face lessons. Provide ample lead-time to create online lessons.

Engaging Lessons

Online course standard B3 states that course instruction and activities must engage students in active learning, including authentic projects and activities that challenge students beyond knowledge and comprehension. Rather than focus primarily on multiple-choice tests for assessments, it’s best to provide students knowledge work where they create, evaluate, and analyze. Students should regularly participate in online discussion groups, be they synchronous or asynchronous.

Just What Part of the “Accessible” Memo Didn’t You Get?

All teaching and learning materials must be accessible to all students. Period. If you’re creating video lectures, streaming video clips, or providing narrated presentations, each must either have closed-captions or a transcript. Online standard D10, and the Department of Justice, expects it and your students deserve it. Sites like Universal Subtitles are easy to use and allow your captioned videos to play from their site, or you may download the time codes to upload to YouTube.

Professional Development

While you may feel like you’ve mastered your craft when teaching face-to-face, teaching an online or blended course requires a different skill set and mastery of different tools. In an online poll we conducted, online teachers recommended that newly converted online teachers master the following tools before beginning to create an online or blended course: 1) SlideShare or a similar online presentation tool; 2) Collaborative meeting tools and related skills to set-up and conduct online discussions; 3) Portfolio creation tools for students to assemble examples of their authentic work; 4) Synchronous presentation skills because teaching “live” to online students offers completely different challenges and requires new solutions; and 5) Universal Subtitles for creating closed-captions.

One avenue of professional development is the Leading Edge Certification (LEC) for online teachers. The 45-hour LEC course includes units in online pedagogy, building an online community, accessibility, assessment, and preparation. Based on iNACOL’s Quality Standards for Online Teachers, LEC provides an opportunity to become a highly-qualified online educator.

Online and blended learning are growing quickly for a reason. These courses can help personalize learning, allowing schools to vastly expand their course catalogs, and providing students the opportunity to learn any time, any place, any path, or at any pace. We understand your eagerness to provide an online or blended option to your students. Before jumping into the water, though, we just ask that you learn to swim. Anyone can create a lousy course. It takes time, talent, and perseverance to create a great one.



Final Report – California eLearning Census: Trending Past the Tipping Point


Last spring, CLRN collaborated with the Evergreen Education Group to create the California eLearning Census, an project to collect accurate virtual and blended learning populations, report the blended models in use, understand the distribution of course publishers in California, and inform the California state profile in Keeping Pace 2012. 30% of all California school districts and direct-funded charters participated in the census, which was conducted between March and May, 2012.

The California eLearning Census found that public school districts and direct-funded charter schools are quickly adopting online and/or blended learning ranging from offering individual courses to students, such as AP Calculus, to full-time virtual courses. Census data reflects 45% of districts and direct-funded charters who participated in the census reported students participated in online and/or blended learning in 579 schools, affecting a critical mass of districts and charters. The data, though, shows that while implementation is fairly wide, it is currently a relatively shallow pool, affecting just 3.4% of the total California student population. A significant number of districts and direct-funded charters (33%) had less than 30 students participating in full-time virtual learning, and 30% had less than 30 students participating in blended learning.  This is to be expected with any disruptive innovation. While Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicted that online learning would reach a tipping point in 2013, and with eLearning growing up to 30% each year, census data seems to indicate that this revolution is either trending towards or may have already passed a tipping point, particularly when accounting for the large number of census respondents (33%) that indicated they were in the planning stages to implement virtual or blended learning.

The California eLearning Census was created by CLRN as part of its mission to inform K12 educators about high-quality, CLRN-Certified online courses; highlight eLearning’s steady growth, trends and resources; and understand districts’ needs so that we can continue to provide relevant services to our customers.

Online and blended learning, while not new, have continued to grow consistently as districts and charters seek new ways to serve their students. With this revolution trending towards, or surpassing, the tipping point, eLearning enters its adolescence. Like all teenagers, continued guidance will be necessary to ensure it becomes a responsible adult.

Download the report here: http://www.clrn.org/census/ and/or watch the video below.

UC partners with California Learning Resource Network

As a recap of last week’s events, here is the posted University of California press release announcing our partnership.In five years as CLRN’s director, this may be our most important event yet and one more marker on our path “north”.

The University of California this week launched a partnership with the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN), a state-funded technology service of the California Department of Education, to certify high school online courses that may fulfill UC’s “a-g” subject requirements for admission. CLRN has reviewed supplemental electronic learning resources and free Web information links since 1999.

“This new partnership will ensure online courses are reviewed by the experts at CLRN for key elements of quality online delivery, before those online courses come to UC to be reviewed by our experts in the ‘a-g’ subject areas,” said Michael Treviño, UC’s director of undergraduate admissions at the Office of the President. “Our shared goal is to set standards of excellence for any online course that prospective students might take when preparing to apply to UC.”

The partnership is the result of a policy revision approved in May by the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), a committee of the UC Academic Senate that oversees the “a-g” requirements. BOARS Chair George Johnson led the charge to analyze the online policy and streamline the approval process for online courses.

“The faculty care very strongly about not just the content of ‘a-g’ courses, but also how courses are taught, who is teaching them and what supports are available for everyone involved,” said Johnson. “UC needed a better mechanism to assess whether online courses meet the faculty expectations for online learning, and we appreciate CLRN’s interest in collaborating with us to address course quality.”

UC course analysts will continue to evaluate the academic content for “a-g” purposes, but CLRN will oversee the initial approval of online courses, ensuring that they are aligned with both content standards and with national standards for quality online courses. Such standards define the knowledge, concepts and skills students should acquire at each high school grade level. This policy revision will allow UC staff to reduce the backlog of online publishers and schools that would like to submit their courses for “a-g” approval.

“My Education Technology Task Force recently came out with a report that identified online learning as a key tool in helping kids learn anytime, anywhere — an exciting innovation that some districts around the state are already beginning to use,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “The UC-CLRN partnership, in turn, will also be a key tool by ensuring that kids who graduate high school in California go on prepared to succeed in college and careers.”

“The CLRN certification process will help spotlight high-quality courses that provide multiple learning paths, engaging curriculum and activities that require students to analyze, evaluate and create,” said CLRN director Brian Bridges.

The University of California aims to ensure that students have enhanced access to a broad range of rigorous “a-g” courses, including online courses, a fast-growing method of teaching and learning.

The revised BOARS policy is available online

For more information about CLRN, visit www.clrn.org.

The Trouble with People Who Write about The Trouble with Online Education


One should probably never publish a blog on a Friday afternoon, but i’ll be pushing out three posts next week, so here’s my chance to rant before the weekend.

Ok, so it took me a month to find the NY Times Op-Ed, “The Trouble with Online Education”, and while I’m sure many of my fellow eLearning conspirators have addressed the editorial’s flaws, I’d like to share my view.

The contributor, Mark Edmundson, is a college professor who thinks deeply about what it takes to conduct a great face-to-face college course and he writes sincerely about understanding the group of students that are in front of him so that he can take them from where they are to where he’d like them to be intellectually. He speaks to the importance of dialogue, varied assessments, and reading his audience so that he can adjust his course on the fly. All traits of a great teacher.

Mark believes, though, that online education is “one size fits all.” I must say that college courses could be the same: boring lectures that haven’t been updated in years; assessments limited to multiple choice tests that are easy to grade; and impersonal. College courses and professors come in all flavors.

So do online courses. You can look at the world of online learning and see specific courses that fit Mark’s description: boring lectures; little or no opportunities for formal or informal discussions; teaching and learning activities that rarely go beyond knowledge and comprehension; limited assessment types; and the inability of the course, because of its construction, to understand where students are starting. Just as there are terrible college professors and courses, there are poor online courses.

It doesn’t have to be, though. Memorable online courses can provide a collaborative space for teachers and students. Great online courses and the learning management systems that contain them can offer a variety of discussion areas; offer rich curriculum and multimedia with links to extension activities; and they can be singular when students need to learn or study on their own or they can provide frequent meeting opportunities “live” or asynchronous in nature. Great face-to-face learning activities can be transported online so that students are challenged to evaluate, analyze, and create.  Or not. Online courses come in many flavors.

Mark ends his Op-Ed by saying, “Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.” I know. I’ve taken lots of face-to-face college courses where I felt alone in a room of 300.

Great face-to-face courses, and great online courses, are made, not born.


eLearning Enters Puberty


It takes a village to raise a child.

Children are cute. We spoil them, tell stories about how perfect they are, and ignore their imperfections. We’re amazed at each new skill they learn: rolling to crawling; speaking their first words; potty training; and learning to read. We just love that they are in our lives.

And then they become teenagers, and their flaws become all too apparent.

In real life, there are two types of parents: those to see their teen’s flaws and work to help their child become a responsible adult; and those who turn a blind side to their child’s imperfections, preferring instead to complain about others who bring their child’s flaws to light.

And so it is with online learning.

Online and blended learning is about to leave childhood, where it often looked cute and cuddly. People would stop and complement how nice it was that eLearning had entered our family, making it more complete and providing comfort to our non-consumer students.

But, eLearning was a child, growing a little more each year; learning new skills while expanding in size. We all thought it was so special, this child that came into our lives. Like all children, we often ignored eLearning’s flaws, focusing instead on its specialness. Some didn’t appreciate our child’s behavior, though, and felt we should discipline it more. Many of us, though, wanted to create the conditions where eLearning could grow and thrive.

Yes, eLearning is special. So were digital cameras in 1999, just before its tipping point, but I wouldn’t ever want a 1999 version of a digital camera. We knew digital photography was special, and recognized it would change our relationship with picture taking. Still, 1999 cameras were low resolution, expensive, clunky, and had few features. We loved them anyway, while acknowledging their flaws. We had great hopes that, over time, they would mature into the healthy adult they are today.

And so it is with eLearning.

Online learning is entering puberty. We dotted on it as a child and saw in it such potential as an adult. Too many of us, though, continue to ignore this child’s flaws, even to the point of criticizing those who dare to point them out.  But children, disruptive innovations in their own right, become established sustaining innovations, growing and changing each year, up to and through adulthood.

As a teenager, eLearning’s limitations are coming to light. Many courses tend to be text-centric; their assessments primarily multiple-choice; and their activities rarely going beyond knowledge and comprehension. That doesn’t mean I don’t love this child. I do and I see the incredible potential this child has. However, if I want eLearning to mature, it’s my job as a parent, it’s our job as a village, to help this child mature. We all have a stake in this child’s future. How, or if, online learning matures depends on the type of parent we choose to be. A parent that continues to spoil the child, discounting flaws and turning a blind side to facts; or one that loves the child but sets the conditions and creates an environment for the child to grow and mature.

As one of the village members watching eLearning transition into adolescence, I see its great potential to be an incredible adult. I believe formative assessments will actually determine a student’s path through the content, reteaching using different examples or pedagogies and providing multiple learning paths until a student becomes proficient. I believe courses will have challenging, authentic activities, requiring students to create, analyze, and evaluate. I believe courses will include a combination of text, short lectures, rich media, interactive simulations, and online discussions. I believe that multiple-choice tests will be just one type of assessment in future courses and that assessment types will be determined by the skill being assessed.

More importantly, I believe our eLearning adolescent won’t reach adulthood unless we create the conditions for its transition into adulthood.That includes being frank about both it’s strengths AND its problems.

Disclaimer: Before moving to the Stanislaus County Office of Education, I taught English, Drama, and Computers at a junior high for 20 years. Each of those 20 years brought many examples of children transitioning through childhood into puberty. Some children were better prepared for the transition; some were ready for adulthood; and some, I suspected, would take longer to “bloom.” Still, my job as a teacher was to help my students, my customers, mature into responsible adults. Yes, teenagers have flaws: they’re awkward; they’re trying out friends; and they’re shedding childhood. They’re not perfect, though. We, teachers and parents, do them great harm by not helping them prepare for adulthood.

And so it is with online learning.

It takes a village to raise a child.

Get with it.