Enabling the Future of Learning

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

I can’t predict the future, but as I wrote back in July, I can say that learning in the future ought to be more personalized. Teachers should have up-to-the minute information that will help them tailor instruction for each student. They should be able to connect and collaborate with other teachers to tackle common challenges and develop solutions. No matter where they are located, students should have access to world-class resources and experts that can enrich a learning experience that is largely designed just for them. And parents should be able to follow their child’s activities and progress almost in real-time, helping them stay more engaged in their child’s education.

This is an exciting future, and for some districts and schools across the country, that future is now.

Today the Department of Education announced the second round of grantees in the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition. (Five winners, representing 25 districts, won a total of $120 million in grant funds.) These grants will support locally developed plans to personalize and improve student learning, directly increase student achievement and educator effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and prepare every student for success in college and careers. Through these grants, innovative school districts will be able to better support teachers and students by increasing educational opportunities through more personalized learning.

President Obama described the promise of personalized learning when he launched the ConnectED initiative last June. Technology is a powerful tool that helps create robust personalized learning environments, but unfortunately, too many of our schools cannot support such environments. ConnectED is about establishing the building blocks for nearly every school to achieve this vision—by boosting broadband speeds through a modernized E-rate program, working to make learning devices and quality content available to all students, and ensuring that teachers have the support and professional development resources they need as they transition to a digital world.

This year’s RTT-D grantees exemplify the types of opportunities created by personalizing learning environments supported by technology. Indeed, most of the districts that won funding represent rural, remote, or small town communities, and their plans show that technology can be a powerful equalizer for schools in such communities. For example:

  • Technology as a tool for teachers and students. Clarendon County School District Two in South Carolina (leading a consortium of four districts) will make personal learning devices like laptops and tablets available to all students in the Carolina Consortium for Enterprise Learning. Teachers will have digital tools to help them differentiate instruction and share standards-aligned materials and assessments.
  • Professional learning communities. Clarksdale Municipal School District in Mississippi will train teachers to become facilitators of instruction and to learn from and support one another through professional learning communities.
  • Continuous improvement. Houston Independent School District in Texas will implement a continuous improvement cycle to measure and support teacher effectiveness and will partner with an external evaluator to provide ongoing feedback to the district on program implementation.
  • Accessible data systems that support instruction. The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (a consortium of eighteen rural districts) will create and implement data systems that measure student growth and success and that help teachers improve instruction.
  • Helping close the digital divide through community access to technology. Springdale School District in Arkansas will expand parent access to technology through school-based and community “hot spots” along with community liaisons with computer access.

It’s clear that much of the innovative work by the districts in this year’s and last year’s RTT-D grantees requires a robust technology infrastructure. And in order for more districts to embrace a future of personalized learning, we must work urgently to meet our ConnectED goals. That future is waiting, but it’s up to us to make it a reality.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education


  1. We are fortunate enough to engage in professional learning communities and meaningful vertical team meetings every morning. This time is invaluable as we have the opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues on a daily basis. Teacher leaders facilitate these professional development sessions and we share successes that we have had implementing current research based instructional strategies. The topic of the most recent teacher-led professional development session I attended was Personalized Learning Networks (PLNs). PLNs provide teachers with the means to connect with other educators through blogs, Twitter, and Diigo. Literacy coaches throughout the district are also connected through Edmodo in order to share resources, tackle challenges and develop solutions. I believe that it is imperative that teachers stay current with research and technology in order to meet the individual needs of our students.

  2. My better half is a teacher who uses the online tools that free enterprise have given/ made available to her free of charge (book suppliers/ writers/ Microsoft). They include time saving things such as test building, online grading of those tests after they are taken online and Student study tools and so much more. I have found that most teachers are unaware of these free resources and tools and that they are not up to snuff on these technologies which are in place and ready for use. Teachers have to have continuing education classes and they need to be made aware of and be able to use these. Try focusing on the entire country not just giving grants to chosen school systems. Educators must be educated on the methodologies and resources to make their job easier and therefore spend more time focusing on the job they love turning on those light bulbs in our children’s minds.

  3. Who is driving the push for public schools to adopt online learning? Is there any evidence that online learning benefits children?
    Where are the protections for children from efforts to replace teachers with cheaper online programs, given that states have drastically cut education funding under Secretary Duncan?
    Since there is absolutely no evidence that “blended learning” is in any way an improvement over what public schools are doing now, why are we pouring public money into it, and what role have the lobbying by ed tech for-profits had in these decisions?

    • “Who is driving the push for public schools to adopt online learning?”

      *cough cough* For one, BILL GATES! *cough cough*

  4. Still no love for Ohio…I am glad to see monies going to some rural settings though…good luck and build those districts and communities for the kids…

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