The intelligence of Education Elements


Jan 2, 2014

As K–12 blended learning has grown, efforts have popped up across the country to create breakthrough proof points that stretch our collective understanding of what is possible for students.

This is important work, but the system needs more than one-off proof points. The field also likely needs to take the simpler, seemingly more straightforward innovations and create opportunities for them to scale to pave the way for high quality personalized learning options for all students.

As Heather Staker and I have written, the models of blended learning most likely to scale into the core academic subjects at all levels of schooling in the near term are sustaining innovations, in which online learning is essentially an augmentation to the traditional classroom, but there is still a fundamental shift in the learning model from the student’s perspective.

One reason this is not a bad thing is that the performance of a disruptive innovation is often unreliable with significant variability in its infancy. In our observations, this rule has held true with the disruptive models of blended learning. As a result, although scaling Station Rotation and Flipped Classroom models might not be the most exciting thing in the world—nor might it create models in which students have the maximum amount of personalization in and agency and ownership over their learning—in the next several years, the scaling of these models is both an important step forward and likely to be where the action is in mainstream subjects.

Understanding this dynamic, Education Elements is one of a few entities to have stepped into the void to help schools do this work. Although from the perspective of those at the frontier of blended learning, this work is not the most exciting or challenging thing perhaps, it is actually quite a leap forward for a traditional classroom inside of a traditional school and district—and therefore perhaps not quite as simple as many thinking about blended learning every day might think.

Education Elements markets itself as a blended-learning solutions provider. Unlike most entities in this area though, it doesn’t just provide consulting services to help schools design and implement a blended-learning environment. It also provides what it calls the Hybrid Learning Management System Platform—software to help schools implement blended-learning solutions that integrate several different content providers by creating a single sign-on option for all of the online content for students and providing teachers and administrators with dashboards that do their best to look across the software and create a unified data platform—not an easy thing to do well.

Although Education Elements does correctly take schools through a design process by focusing on the model first and then moving to the technology second in service of that model—not the other way around as many districts do—the result of that design process generally ends up with the creation of a Station Rotation because that both starts schools down the path of rethinking how to maximize the use of time and space for learning and is doable and more predictable than are some of the bolder models emerging. Having an entity like this that knows where the market is and will be for the years to come but also helps schools handle the basic blocking and tackling of design and implementation is critical to moving blended learning forward across the country. It’s also smart for the future of Education Elements.

There are of course challenges ahead for Education Elements. People complain that its data dashboards don’t always integrate data from disparate sources well (in my opinion, an impossible ask in today’s fragmented market filled with proprietary players). Working with districts and gaining their business is not easy. And competitors will emerge.

But Education Elements is smart to understand both how steep the design challenges can be for districts in moving to blended-learning models—and consequently where the action is today—as well as the opportunities blended learning presents to rethink the use of time in school, such that it can create schools that transform teaching and learning for both teachers and students and rack up some wins in the process. The intelligence and importance of fulfilling this job to be done in the marketplace should not be underestimated. This understanding places Education Elements far closer to where the market is today, even if that’s not where many would like the market to be.

Michael B. Horn

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.