Responses to School Pressures
By LeiLani Cauthen
Age-old methods of meeting pressures in schools by leaders have typically included making program cuts because there are fewer students to serve and less dollars to go around. Adding specialized programs to serve unique popufations is another one. These are at the programmatic level and do not address delivery structure, even when they “blend tech” or offer online programs. Leaders also consolidate schools, busing students further from home in many instances, when culturally there is resistance to leaving home and bustling to-and-fro in the first place, unless it is really necessary. Another address is building brand new tricked-out schools while abandoning old ones in the hopes that it is buildings, and not structure and method that are the key to success. These methods are all quickly failing everywhere.
States and districts are stepping in to stand up large numbers of community centers, micro-schools, and charters, which seem like a great way to shuffle attention to alternatives while still capturing enrollment. Unfortunately, most of these and even separate online schools are still traditional grade-and-class structured, built to normalize students by age batches in a manufacturing-line process and a class-plus teacher course delivery mechanism. They are still teacher-centric and not student-centric.
Charters and micro-schools may work for some of the population because they are smaller, nimbler, and familiar. Yet, they are not working for enormous swaths who are opting out entirely from all enrollments of anything that looks traditional. Underneath is an angst about time use, physical attendance requirements, and gate-keeping teaching with narrow individualization parameters within the by-age and wait-for-me-to-tell- you distribution pattern.
Disregarding curriculum morality as a big source of additional reasons for some parents to argue with traditional schools for a moment; it’s not that opting-out families want no social intersection or teachers. They want a perfected intersection, useful, of-the moment experiences not dragged down or held up by fellow travelers. They disagree with wasted time, a common complaint by homeschooling families about traditional schedules. Their parents do want the right socialization and for their children to be able to do long-form discussions and listening without tuning out in eight minutes, the switch-and-look-for-the-next-thing habit the present generation has from years of online gaming and social media. They need these skills, but they will not tolerate them as the preponderance of the construct when digital can be far more efficient in delivery and personalization.
The Traditional Model
To address these pressures, the standard response by a traditional school leader is to keep the same organizational structure and physical structure and to either cut or add programs, change or add tactics, or consolidate schools as a strategy to manage attrition, class sizes or a lack of teachers. Layering on technology provides a semblance of digital transition, but quickly overwhelms teachers and administrators because it doesn’t really use digital workflow but instead, continues flowing through teachers. Administrators largely assume teachers will choose or create all digital resources and do not consider the ramifications because of their own unfamiliarity with the digital scene. Unskilled in digital instructional design, errors in workflow as well as learning models ripple out into untraceable loss of achievement. Unobserved, the cost of bottlenecking student direct access while simultaneously distributing resource choice down to teachers creates chaos from lack of good data. Teachers cannot possibly be expected to report out on every detail of each discretely emailed link or posted item in a sub-file of some cloud drive, every separate single-function or single-subject app, and so forth.
Charters & Online Schools Responses
While being alternatives to traditional schools in the sense of the physical structure or space, the actual learning organizational structure changes little. Learning distribution is still largely teacher-centric in charters and community schools, offering appeals largely with smaller size and customized curriculum focus. Online schools offer the same sort of structure with the appeal of remote learning, but can use fewer teachers or none at all. These types of alternatives change little with the learning structure and a limited amount with physical structure, resulting in low potential for personalization and flexibility in the learning experience.
The Matrix Digital Model
Matrix Digital addresses learning experiences and a need for efficiencies in teaching, with better workflow, centralizing, and organizing. It leaves largely in place the grade and- class structure, but flips to a centralized software model architecture. It eventually adapts to greater efficiencies as teachers build learning side-paths off the main highways of the curriculum map to fit individual students. While it is a quantum leap administratively above existing decentralized models, it does not address learning in nearly the same order of magnitude as it does the act of organizing teaching. Therefore, this response to pressures is split into first “Matrix Teaching.”
A second level of addressing learning more specifically in Matrix Digital has administrations becoming extremely focused on the digital instructional design of the pieces of knowledge – how they are articulated and interacted with by students. Already, several states have laws in place requiring curriculum adoptions, including digital professional packages, to be research-based. The student experience of learning will look to use all the majesty of the digital interface for all that it can do, not just flat text or non-interactive video, which is out of sync with other commercial digital experiences by students. It is at this point that schools and districts will begin moving away from the traditional office suites and Learning Management Systems to systems-of- systems such as Learning Object Repositories. Such a sophisticated software architecture will then pressure the final question of the workflow of the student, not just for access and the pieces of discrete digital knowledge, but for the flexibility of their time and place in doing, learning, and intersecting with teachers and other students.
This is the point where finally the education sector will begin to do the mutations that will mirror the transition from the Industrial Age to the Tech Age, just like the private sector, where tech allows for office work, as well as semi- or full-time remote work for multiple sectors. Workers work alone at critical thinking divided tasks and frequent meetings, not together as in a manufacturing plant with little thinking and rote repetitiveness. They are best served when they graduate comfortable at autonomous individual creative work, not unquestioningly following along with a small herd.
The response to a need for student workflow is “Matrix Learning.” When combined, Matrix Teaching and Learning are known as a Matrix Digital Model.
The Hybrid Logistics Model
Reorganizing the learning organizational structure with advanced process and technology architecture, as well as the physical structure with changes to the use of time and space, defines a new logistics response to school pressures. It is a significant change from the manufacturing-line model. Some aspects of it are not entirely new because small schools have always had to try to serve disparate ages of students with very few teachers, and online schools with remote learning have been around for a long time. What’s significant is that, in a Hybrid Logistics Model, the meshing of two, usually separate worlds of on-campus and online learning, occurs while not sacrificing live intersection as needed with human teaching. The logistics innovation allows scheduling of a group, individual and autonomous learning to be sent down to the individual student level, and can scale for schools of any size.
As a response to the pressure to use time and space differently, Hybrid Logistics is a way to move beyond personalization up to experiential learning beyond the on-campus manufacturing model. Truly experiential learning supposes that the student got precisely what he or she needed for a learning path, and experienced it with a community of peers and teachers, all without having to have an individual education plan because the entire structure and the delivery mechanisms are built to individualize and personalize.
At its core, Hybrid Logistics is pace-based auto-cohorting, including live intersections with peers and teachers, in groups and individually. It uses a unique invention for schooling: a scheduler of meets that “float,” accruing invited members by a present cohort number until that number arrives to points in the learning sequence. A meet could be considered, for example, a step in a sequence of tasks, a unique learning path, a small group or class meeting, or individualized attention with a teacher. Once the cohort is full, the meeting is set on the calendar. Students are started on a course and study autonomously from instructions until the next meet, which can be held as designated in a classroom and/or via video conference call. The scheduler retriggers meets automatically for the next cohort until all members have met with the teacher.
Significant reinvention of master scheduling accompanies the invention. Hybrid Logistics can use either a block schedule or a new mechanism called a Hold. A Hold is essentially a block of time set into a day, that accounts for things like lunch periods or breaks and can be used to schedule learning flexibly. Holds could contain, for example, cross-curricular units of study for certain students and simultaneously individualize instruction on separate content for others, intersecting resources and in-person interactions as needed.
The application of automated logistics in this way facilitates personalization by allowing students to progress at their own pace, eliminating artificial limitations placed on learners, and creating time for students to get individual attention as needed, due to efficiencies created through the process.
Hybrid Hyflex Logistics, an interim step between Matrix Digital and Hybrid Logistics, would be any instance where some parts of the day and subjects still use the traditional manufacturing batch model while using space and time differently for things like remedial and extra-curricular learning or pilots in core subjects. As a response to school pressures, Hybrid Logistics and Hybrid Hyflex are the first quasi-consumer-level models to match and even exceed the levels of change of other industries and change cultural expectations for what educational experiences can be like.
About the author
LeiLani Cauthen is the CEO and Publisher of The Learning Counsel. She 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 an author and media personality with twenty years of research, news media publishing and market leadership in the high tech, education and government industries.