At its inception, the internet was created primarily to allow scholars and scientists to exchange data, theories and resources, and to provide a forum for intellectual curiosity. Today, this access to limitless information is available to anyone with an internet connection. Thanks to this level of flexibility, technology’s potential to improve learning outcomes is vast. But to harness its power to effect measurable change, we also need to address issues of accessibility and effectively scale digital tools to provide more learners with access to valuable education content. At HMH, we’re focused on creating the highest quality learning content, and this process includes thinking about how we deliver that content, both in the traditional classroom space and beyond. What interface will users find most engaging? How can we help more parents support their kids with homework help? What apps are best for students on-the-go? Fortunately, there are many inspiring models for efficient scaling and successful content delivery. Here are a few key lessons I’ve learned about expanding access to learning opportunities from innovators that are already positively impacting children, families and communities around the world. Understand Unique Learning Environments The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the world’s poorest children through education, ultimately cultivating a global community of citizens prepared to tackle future challenges creatively and transform their local environments. OLPC studied the specific needs of children living with minimal resources, often at a basic subsistence level, in remote areas around the world. This research informed the design and essential qualities of the laptop – durable, mobile and flexible with an open-source operating system for simple upkeep and an affordable internet access point. By ensuring that the laptop’s design would enable functionality in the students’ home environments, OLPC has optimized its own potential for success; over 2.4 million children and teachers are using their inexpensive and sturdy XO laptop. Expand Capabilities of Engaging Platforms Innovators can benefit from working within a framework that already has a proven track record when it comes to successful scaling. Finnish video game company Rovio, the brains behind the mobile game phenomenon Angry Birds (the number one paid app of all time) is doing just that. Angry Birds Playground is a multifaceted learning environment built with the support of education experts that also incorporates elements of the Finnish National Curriculum for Kindergarten. Deliver Practical Tools from Trusted Sources New digital channels allow trusted brands and organizations to share media and information with even more learners. For example, PBS Kids is the number one educational media brand in the United States with nearly 11 million visits to PBS Kids.org each month. This free website includes games, activities and videos for children 3-8 years old along with information for parents and educators. And with years of trusted, award-winning broadcast content, like Sesame Street, in PBS’ history, families can be confident that digital tools align to high standards as well. Leverage Technology with Mass Appeal Text4baby is another great illustration of an expert organization, in this case the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, using technology to reach and educate people at scale. The Coalition has created a free mobile app that provides information for pregnant women and moms of babies under one year old. The power and success of Text4baby lies in its ability to get the most essential health information to mothers in need quickly and easily, using a technology they already use and rely on. Available in English and Spanish, Text4baby has reached over 600,000 individuals through a network of more than 1,200 partners in health, and has had measurable success with women in high-poverty and low-income communities. The effective scaling of high quality programs for learning has enormous implications for global equity. When successful, we can reach learners, educators and families in ways that are most conducive to their environments and via platforms they are already comfortable with. While access and cost can be barriers, business and distribution models like these are helping us to meet these issues head-on, merge quality content with effective implementation strategies, and create a roadmap for future development as we continue to build a global community of lifelong learners.
Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School, senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
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