Aurora CEO: Skills-Based Education Needs Tech Support – Government Technology | Team Cansler

The Aurora Institute, a national nonprofit focused on policy change and education innovation, has made it clear that it supports a number of policy changes for better K-12 instruction. And while the digital divide and improved ratings are among the hottest topics for nonprofits, it’s becoming a key element of the K-12 system that ed-tech companies keep up with the burgeoning skills-based education (CBE) movement or not all too distant future.

In conversation with government technology This week, Aurora President and Chief Executive Officer Susan Patrick emphasized that the old one-size-fits-all model of sending every student through school at the same pace is not working and that all signs point to competency-based and personalized learning as the education of the future.

“The purpose of our education system today and the general metrics for it are based on very narrow goals, and that’s very time and age dependent,” Patrick said. “Although we are working really hard to improve the current system, after 21 years [the] No child is left behind [Act]we still see similar results [in student outcomes].”


Patrick said that when the organization rebranded from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) to the Aurora Institute in the fall of 2019, it shifted its core focus to addressing systemic flaws in K-12 education, particularly around the need to emphasize for competency-based models that personalize learning for each student. She said the traditional education system has used technology to increase access to educational content, but that’s not enough.

“(We need to) shift the very purpose of our education system to human thriving, human thriving — the goals you set for graduates,” Patrick said. “You need different skills that just don’t show up in the old framework.”

She said teachers are overwhelmed and are cramming 20 years of teaching into 12 years of schooling, resulting in children getting through school with gaps in knowledge. Patrick said that technology needs to be applied to CBE and that school systems should have a different view of the fundamental elements of high school diplomas, transcripts, and the ranking of students and schools through GPAs.

“We need to be able to refocus on meaningful credentials or next-generation credentials, giving students a digital wallet or e-portfolio with evidence of the type of learning and skills they have that employers and higher education institutions value ‘ said Patrick.

Competency-based education has been piloted by districts in different parts of the country. Patrick said the Aurora Institute has worked with schools and counties in various areas of the US with some success, and she wrote an article for the National Association of State Boards of Education Journal last year arguing the effectiveness of competency-based, personalized student learning . The Aurora Institute also has a CompetencyWorks initiative to share research, perspectives, and policy advocacy around CBE.

Patrick highlighted research from the American Institutes for Research which found that students in the competency building model show positive changes in willingness to learn, skills and behavior. She said numerous studies over decades have shown the benefits of CBE and stressed why Aurora is pushing schools to move in this direction.

Despite anecdotal success in implementing competency-based education — in the US and around the world, Patrick says — the model still needs technology to support diverse styles of teaching and learning that ultimately empower students to take control of their education. She said it goes well beyond the digital divide and the need to ensure all schools have broadband connections.

“A lot of ed-tech companies and a lot of the technologies available still support old-fashioned models of education — electronic gradebooks, age-based, class-based, subject-based content — and aren’t modular enough in the way that they need to be,” she said. “We need to have better ways of recording student progress in relation to what they have demonstrated and the associated e-portfolio background.”

Patrick said one of the biggest technology imperatives in K-12 CBE is competency-based digital learning tools to support the creation of personalized learning plans. Other technologies they think would help would be software to match personalized study plans to learners’ records for each student, with badges or micro-credentials issued after proving mastery of a subject, and the student would have access to the Record to see his improvements time.

“We’re really a long way away (with technology for CBE) and I think post-pandemic schools and counties and even states are hungry for a technology solution that can support competency-based education, but the field isn’t there yet, and shut a lot of the investment in ed-tech still goes into one-size-fits-all models,” she said. “I’d really like to challenge the Ed Tech space to create more modern solutions for competency-based systems.”

Patrick said the institute plans to continue its work on CBE by reaching out to state and federal legislators over the coming year to promote policies to support anytime, anywhere learning, innovation zones and CBE pathways.

“I think that by finding new ways to support safe learning profiles for every student, we could really challenge how we think about what quality learning looks like and what that might mean for accountability,” she said.

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