The “Prove It First” Trap of Digital Transition

A Five-Part Series Based on 2 Years on the Road Looking for Transition Success
LeiLani Cauthen

This story began last week. This is the second installment on my view of digital transition after having traveled the U.S. for two years. Every executive I’ve had the privilege to speak with has shared their experiences sorting through the chaos and confusion during this shift in education. There are many awesome stories of success. So let’s talk about the second trap and get some ideas of how it is being solved.

Trap # 2—“Prove It First”

Perhaps a differing element from the business world is also that Education seemingly finds it so difficult to prove return-on-investment, or that something “worked.” So they don’t buy or even investigate technology for lack of great tomes of proof. Business proves something “worked” when it makes more money. That’s its penultimate measure and practically the only one. Most education institutions are not trying to be profitable. Instead they are trying to prove a human is actually educated. This has long plagued Education as the great question of their utility. If you can’t prove someone learned then you didn’t do anything. It is possible this is the second great lie.

Just because we have a natural law that each student, each human, is uniquely different, doesn’t mean that we can’t see for ourselves when someone improves. This can be seen and even measured. What’s difficult, however, is building a yardstick that measures every one, a.k.a. testing. Because to do that, you have to have a baseline – and there really isn’t a true one for humans. The Education industry does contrive to test and assess almost infinitely, and probably always will out of necessity, but it’s still a lie that we can’t directly ourselves observe improvement and know with a high level of veracity that something did work. And digital curriculum does work – there is plenty of evidence.

This brings me back to the reason why the “there is no money” belief is handicapping the American education system’s transition to digital. Teachers, and most of the executives, think they cannot afford digital courseware or the many digital Apps and things needed to fully transition. When called out on that excuse, they typically lay this one on you—“there is no proof they work.”

Many educators think digital things are “unproven” without really shopping the massive number of publishers or having any real comparison analysis, even whilst they had been purchasing $250+ textbooks by the tens of thousands. By still hanging on to the old book-buying-habit, of course “there is no money” for digital equivalents. Worse, many teachers and executives do not even look at new industry courseware and so do not see how it is wholly not a textbook and is definitely not some link or note or short video.

The fully-loaded immersive-environment digital courseware is pretty impressive. It puts textbooks in the stone ages. It costs money and has to because it is using animators and code maestros and algorithm builders that education institutions just don’t employ. Well, umm, except for Alt School in San Francisco which apparently has some 30 developers on staff. (We learned that this year in our San Jose event, and trust me, there were a lot of dropping jaws over that little declaration by Paul France, their well-spoken representative that day. Major jealousy streaked through the emotions of the room. I mean, what educator gets to hire their own coders?)

LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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