Since the pandemic began, digital learning has accelerated around the world. It’s not new. In a 2019 Gallup and NewSchools Venture Fund report, 89% of students in grades 3-12 reported using digital learning in school, and 71% said they’d used it outside of school. Digital learning tools offer learners access to “transformative learning opportunities” (Calderon and Carlson, 2019). Let’s take it a step further and talk about digital curriculum as one of those tools.
What is a digital curriculum?
Digital curriculum is a comprehensive, customizable collection of resources. It is standards-aligned, flexible, accessible, personalizes learning, engages learners as the digital natives they are, and offers opportunities to increase learner agency. Digital resources come in various formats, texts, video, images, audio, and interactive media. Digital curriculum is employed in a variety of modalities and supports flipped classrooms, expanded classroom materials, accelerating learning, remediation, and credit recovery. To be clear, digital curriculum is not a replacement for teachers. It is an opportunity for teachers to more easily move from the “I do – We do” classroom instruction to the “You do” deliberate practice, focused where learners need the most practice to complete unfinished learning or move beyond where they are.
Digital curriculum helps educators streamline differentiation opportunities, to personalize and pinpoint where learners are in their learning. Learners have access to content that they need and can work at the pace that is most effective for them. Most digital curriculum contains or allows for checks for understanding (CFU) that provide insight to learners and educators (and parents) about both learner success and progress. As learners see and understand their progress, their agency increases with multiple opportunities to own their learning and reflect on what they know and don’t know and what they need to learn next. Learners of all levels and with diverse needs can be supported with a digital curriculum.
Students have been using technology as a primary source for research, communication, creation, and building their understanding of content for years. What digital curriculum adds to the student experience is instruction and assessment, particularly formative assessment, which happens within the learning. That means either the system, learner or teacher gets to adjust.
What’s the capacity of your system to support a Digital Curriculum?
For some systems, adopting and implementing a digital curriculum will be a second-order change, for others first order. There are many capacity considerations for either implementing or expanding a digital curriculum. Three considerations include:
- Developing a shared understanding of the need for change – Challenges and opportunities exist with adoption or expansion. Getting clear on both and the vision of the change will be crucial.
- Fostering both innovation and flexibility – Preparing educators, families and students to understand and embrace the transformational nature of technology and its power to enhance learning matters.
- Embracing a focus on learners – Meeting the diverse needs of all learners, helping students finish learning to catch up or keep up, and for some move up is critical. Engaging and empowering learners to own their learning is disruptive for some. Building educators’ capacity by providing professional learning that helps them learn how to be efficient and effective with their use of a digital curriculum will make a difference.
What makes a good Digital curriculum?
Whether adopting or expanding your digital curriculum, check to see if these aspects are included.
- Standards-aligned: build a scope and sequence that allows learners to ultimately demonstrate mastery and is designed to enhance direct instruction – standards refers to any standards the school employs, i.e., ISTE, iNACOL, state, NGSS, etc.
- Engaging design: digital natives want to explore content, click around to discover what’s embedded in the text, images, media, and learning objects – design must engage them deliberately to maximize interest and understanding.
- Accessible: readily accessible content and learning for all learners is critical. Universal Design for Learning should be evident and include strategies for equity, access and special populations.
- Cognitive load consciousness: content is digestible and lets students take the learning with them
- Support and scaffold: provide information in the moment when questions occur – learners move at their pace on their path and control their learning.
- Assessment: Checks for Understanding (CFU) (or formative assessment) are built into learning pathways. They provide feedback to students during the learning and information for teachers to offer support. Assessments are written for all levels providing opportunities for synthesis, demonstration and collaboration.
- Pedagogy: opportunities for educators to explore and discover the best ways to use digital curriculum including when to provide for dialogue, discourse and reflection.
- Learning paths: individual and independent options for students to work, show progress and demonstrate mastery. Paths may be assigned by the system or created by the teacher; every learner is met at their level.
- Data – reporting includes progress monitoring and end reports and is available to learners, educators and family.
Benefits of a Digital Curriculum
While access to the technology to deliver a digital curriculum is a concern, once that hurdle has been met, the benefits are many.
- Benefits to Students
- Personalized learning: Digital curriculum allows students to receive instruction independently and at their own pace. Having the flexibility to learn about new concepts online can be empowering to students, as they can determine where, how, and when they learn best. Online curriculum may allow students to skip content they’ve already demonstrated mastery with. Learners then focus on their knowledge gaps without having to retake content they already understand.
- Self-monitoring: CFUs/FA often provide feedback on what the correct answer is and a brief explanation of why it’s correct. This instant feedback lets learners gauge whether they’re on the right track.
- Multi-modal learning: The use of visuals, detailed explanations and audio create a media-rich experience that helps learners better engage with the content they’re learning.
- Benefits to Teachers
- Teachers have options to use standard content or create standards-aligned custom courses. Assignments may be graded in/by the system so teachers can focus on open-ended responses and time with individual learners.
- Teachers can explore different instructional models, for example, flipped or blended classrooms. Which is most effective for them and their learners?
- Using a digital curriculum typically provides educators (and learners) with actionable data. The reporting capabilities of the system help identify whether learners are on track, below or above where they need to be in their learning.
- Benefits to Schools
- Prepare students for the real world – working in and with technology will be part of 80% of middle-skill jobs in the future.
- Make lives easier – backpacks are lighter, paper becomes less of an issue and assignments don’t get eaten by the family pet; parents have access to progress via portals.
- Provide collaborative creation – opportunities exist for educators and students to create content.
- Change the use of textbooks – the move to digitized texts means cost-saving measures for schools.
What is your digital curriculum strategy?
While the overnight shift to online instruction was far from ideal in 2020, education was pushed into a disruptive change. Educators may have felt under-supported. Administrators were under pressure and families often felt overwhelmed. Today, educators are using more digital curriculum and offering more courses. They are customizing this curriculum, adding to pre-existing content, and mixing grade-level content. Learners have more opportunities for equity and personalization as educators are better equipped to meet learners where they are with instruction that is just right for them.
Creating more engaging and productive learning experiences is what happens when educational systems become learner-centered. 2020 provided a push toward the compelling need learners have to access a wide, diverse digital curriculum in a way that is thoughtfully created and curated. Teachers need encouragement and support in thinking about their role as facilitators of learning and how technology can support them. Using emerging technologies effectively helps prepare students for their life outside of and after school.
How can we support your school?
At Edmentum, we want to empower and enable educators to deliver truly personalized learning for every student based on their unique learning needs. Our K-12 standards-aligned digital curriculum supports schools to deliver learning across different teaching models. Our products support educators with adaptive learning, real-time data reporting, intervention support, and fully customizable built-in assessments. With the implementation of our products, students can learn, maintain progress and development from anywhere.
This article was written by Kathy S Dyer.
Kathy Dyer is an innovative educator who has served as a teacher, principal, district assessment coordinator, and adjunct professor. She has a passion for learner-centered learning—opportunities for learners of all ages to learn with, from, and for one another. Believing that all learners can learn more and grow more, Kathy is passionate about helping schools and educators get better at what they do.
Kathy combines a deep understanding of adult learning with a passion for collaborative problem solving to help school systems improve student outcomes. Her work has been featured on eSchool News, Education Dive, Ed Circuit, Teach. Learn. Grow. blog, and Getting Smart.