What Can Digitization Do For Learning?

Written by Neeru Khosla on December 16, 2012

“What can digitization do for learning?” This is the fundamental question that has driven the team at CK-12 and motivates us to innovate. It stimulates a much more intriguing thought process than the more mundane “how do we digitize a textbook?” or “how do we get curriculum into the virtual world?” We don’t just ask ourselves what it would take to make great content accessible to all students, but rather we question what would make the content more meaningful to the students.

The traditional educational system forces students into a constrained paradigm. One that demands they learn in a school setting with “fixed time and variable learning” sessions (i.e. preset 55 minute lessons covering a limited and contrived set of information). We laud the ability of some students to take in information through a lecture or through a textbook, and that is not something to undermine, but we also need to be cognizant of the needs of all the other students. It is a moral imperative that we recognize that many students need to see applications in motion, or need to fiddle with a few parameters, or just need to hear a topic described in a slightly different way to fully understand it. That is why CK-12 Foundation seeks to understand the more complex alternatives that technology allows and ventures down the new avenues created by the digital world. Hence our incessant pondering, “What can digitization do for learning?”

On a deeper level, when we think about fixed time and variable learning, one thing becomes clear, “block time” learning is destructive. This is because it interrupts student’s learning – imagine just when you start thinking about something more deeply, you have to stop and start thinking about something else. We need to bring these disrupted elements together. While we cannot change the conditions within schools, we at CK-12 empower students by providing resources that allow for maximized, self-paced, uninterrupted learning.

Our first initiative was to uncover ways that the old textbook could be reinvigorated through a digital medium. For us to do this, we had to identify the core values afforded by textbooks. For instance, what do the hard bound covers really provide? Well, they give direction and provide boundaries for comprehensive coverage of a particular subject. But those boundaries are often far too rigid. We thus iteratively redesigned the model in the digital realm by first coining the idea of “FlexBooks”. Secondly we realized through digitization we can provide many other abilities, such as direction for learning through dynamic maps that allow for self-paced and self-directed learning or more dynamic teacher guided instruction. Hence, with that in mind, we decided to breakdown subjects into discrete and complete units that express basic ideas – concepts – which we then linked in logical ways – concept-maps.

But these aren’t the only things one can do with digitization. At CK-12 we recognize the value of tinkering and experimenting; therefore we provide interactive simulations that engage students and allow them to manipulate variables on their own, focused and uninterrupted. This means CK-12 provides contextualized content for learning in a multitude of ways from different instructors (think: Khan Academy, Dan Meyers, etc) so the students can find the one they learn best from or that allows things to “click” for them. In the end what this means is that we can contextualize a plethora of different pieces: content, lesson plans, critical thinking questions, exercises, study guides, real world applications, activity sheets, and more. This allows a student to find different representations of content in one place through different modalities, synchronizing the “learning moments”.

In order for us to be content providers who are learning focused, we needed to create multi-modal content that meets ALL of the students’ needs; we had to open our platform. This meant we allowed educators to create, assemble, remix, and distribute the free resources we provide. In doing so, we have allowed for localization and personalization and we have made it possible for our offerings to grow exponentially with the growth of our community. Educators within a district or state, or country, or even internationally, can work together to create more and more diverse content covering more and more subjects.

CK-12’s efforts represent a unique approach to solving the education problem. We are not simply throwing money at the issue with a political agenda, and we are not creating more intricate technological services that serve a particular niche of learners. Instead, we are meeting students at their own level and creating a platform that allows students to find exactly what they need when they need it. Our long term vision at CK-12 is that one day all students will have access to the information they need, to get the education they deserve to build an educated society.