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2016 Digital Learning Reports from Blackboard and Speak Up

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In June 2016, Blackboard released two new reports featuring data from Speak Up 2015 on personalized learning and community engagement.

Trends in Digital Learning: How K-12 leaders are empowering personalized learning in America’s schools

Report imageWhile personalized learning, the ability to optimize teaching and learning to meet the individual needs of students, has been a long standing goal of K-12 education, the difference today is that the digital tools and infrastructure to support this goal have finally caught up to the ideal. The conversation today therefore is not about if personalized learning is the right approach, but rather how to successfully implement new classroom models and learning modalities to meet the specific needs of students through differentiated support and learner-centered instruction.  While debates continue among education thought leaders about the optimum environments for personalized learning, a strong cohort of innovative school and district administrators across the United States (and around the globe) are already on the forefront of scaling the use of digital content, resources and tools to empower new learner-centric, highly differentiated classroom environments.  The experiences and insights of these administrators, who we are calling our personalized learning pioneers, are the subject of this year’s Trends in Digital Learning report, an annual collaboration between Project Tomorrow® and Blackboard, Inc.  


Some key findings include:

  • One-third of district administrators nationwide endorse “individualized education plans for every student” as a key local strategy for improving students’ readiness for college and career expectations. 
  • A majority of administrators (51 percent) see the path to reaching these outcomes as the more effective use of technology within the classroom. 
  • Teachers say they are using technology to encourage student self-monitoring of learning (55 percent), examine student performance trends to differentiate instruction (50 percent) and providing regular feedback to their students on performance (48 percent).
  • School principals report that they have seen positive learning outcomes as the result of the use of student data to inform instruction (76 percent) and the implementation of digital content (54 percent). Underscoring the sea of change that is happening in our nation’s schools, only 46 percent of principals in 2012 reported positive impacts from the use of student data and digital content within learning.
  • The top challenge reported by principals who have implemented blended learning include: educating parents on their role in supporting blended learning for their child (61 percent).
  • Among schools that have implemented blended learning as a school initiative, 42 percent of principals say that 50 percent or more of instructional materials that students are using are digital. In all schools, only 30 percent of principals can make that same claim.
  • Approximately 40 percent of schools have implemented online classes for students and online professional development for teachers in their districts. In 2013, only 23 percent of technology leaders said their district was offering online courses for teacher professional development and only 27 percent were providing students with online learning options.  

Trends in Community Engagement:  How K12 Schools are Meeting the Expectations of Parents for Digital Communications

Report ImageSchools and districts are increasingly adopting digital tools to both engage parents in students’ learning lives, and to facilitate timely, efficient and effective communications with parents.  Parents are receptive to this new role as a partner with their child’s teacher in the learning process and the use of digital means for communications. This is especially true for parents of younger students who are typically more technology-savvy than their peers with older children in school. 

The ability for digital communications tools to keep parents informed about students’ attendance, grades and achievement challenges is therefore increasingly valuable.  Parents’ enhanced access to digital tools supports greater digital communications as well.  While only 58 percent of parents of school-aged children carried a smartphone in 2010, 94 percent of parents today are smartphone users. Administrators are realizing that the traditional means for communications from school-to-home are changing rapidly, and they are correspondingly adjusting their expectations for new teacher skills. 

Some key findings include:

  • Two-thirds of school principals now want new teachers to be proficient in using digital tools such as social media apps for communications with parents and students.
  • 87 percent of parents indicated this year that a personal email was the most effective vehicle for communicating with them, an increase of 36 percent since 2010. 
  • 55 percent of parents would like their child’s teacher or school to simply “text them” when they want to communicate information.  In 2010, text messaging was the preference of only five percent of parents.
  • Only 50 percent of the parents noted that a face-to-face meeting was the most effective way to communicate information to them, a significant decrease from just one year ago when 64 percent of parents valued the type of communications approach. 
  • Only 48 percent of parents chose a personal phone call most effective way to communicate information to them.
  • Parents of elementary students who are under 40 years of age themselves are the most supportive of the use of emerging digital tools to support school-to-home communications.
  • Despite conventional wisdom, schools in suburban communities are less likely than urban or rural schools to leverage digital tools to communicate or engage with their school parents.
  • Principals who have implemented a blended learning model attribute the new learning environment to improved school-to-home communications (42 percent), more engaged parents (30 percent) and greater synchronization between teachers, students and parents on learning goals (27 percent).