What We’re Learning About How We Learn

The rapid transition to remote schooling has supercharged trends in online learning — it’s possible that 3-5 years of behavior change has been condensed into a few short weeks.  More independent/self-guided learning has required not only a re-thinking of curriculum but a shift in how students view their role in the learning experience. Creative responses to many of today’s acute challenges may permanently broaden the options available for learners and educators alike.

We think that the most transformative solutions will go direct-to-learner instead of selling to school systems or relying on district budgetary approval or policy change. A few shifts that we are paying attention to:

  • Unbundling the school day: K-12 education has always been more than just the school day – it is a jumping-off point for personal and social development as well as a critical child care resource for working parents.  Without the constraints of local offerings, openness to remote enrichment may open up a new world of experiences for students, both in the classroom and for extracurriculars. Just as adults have sought learning via entertainment through the likes of The Daily Show or podcasts, we’re excited for the next generation of learning experiences that integrate with other parts of a student’s life.
  • Accelerated demand for “in-betweeners”:  Fully remote school will continue to be unviable for many families.  However, the appeal of certain elements (ie, project-based learning) may create new types of schools that maintain an out-of-home structure, but allow for the programmatic flexibility to which many learners have now been exposed.  Historically, optionality in education has driven demand — as the number of charter schools increased, so did enrollment.  Perhaps the same thing will occur for microschools or other learning communities.
  • Open source curricula:  Families are pulling from a diverse set of resources to help manage the transition to remote learning — online classes, virtual field trips or even turning baking into a chemistry lesson. Aggregators such as Wide Open School may seed the landscape for novel open source curricula — dynamic virtual textbooks that link directly to lectures, problem sets, and enable interactions such as pinging a tutor.  We’re excited to see solutions that embed both learning and community to deliver an immersive experience to students.

These shifts highlight a push-pull between individual impact and scale.  Learning is often made more meaningful by the person teaching; if we’re lucky, most of us have had a few mentors that had an outsized influence on our lives.  While technology is well-suited to help the most engaging content rise to the top, the personalization of a teacher-student relationship changes at scale. How might platforms enable safety, advocacy, and trust for individual students and teachers while still achieving widespread distribution?

If you are building a learning platform, community, or tool, what have you experienced in recent weeks and where do you think we are headed?  We’d love to hear your thoughts and/or what you are building in this vein. Ping us — analysts at usv.com or hannah at usv.com + hanel at usv.com

Lastly, technology is only one tool in a complex sociopolitical web that determines both access to, and outcomes from, the educational experience — here are a few resources for programs helping provide safety, food, or immediate care to some of the most vulnerable learners in New York City.