Happenings

Digital Learning Challenge: Partner Update

Last year, SCE launched a challenge initiative to identify and partner with organizations working to increase access to the most engaging, educationally effective digital learning media, particularly for underserved populations.

We were thrilled by the response we received and were able to learn about many high-impact organizations working to increase access to quality digital learning tools. We saw some incredible proposals, but CFY’s PowerMyLearning and Ednovo’s Gooru demonstrated the greatest potential to increase the supply of high-quality digital learning media, and foster greater use of these products in environments that maximize learning.

We recently checked in with Pram from Ednovo and Elisabeth from CFY to share an update on their progress, thoughts on how the digital learning field is changing and ideas about how we can continue to develop an ecosystem that supports the development and distribution of high-quality digital learning tools.

A few moments with Prasad Ram (aka Pram), Founder, CEO and Chairman of Gooru

Tell us a bit about Gooru.

Gooru was founded in 2011 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to honor the human right to education by developing innovative technology to positively impact learning. Gooru accomplishes this by delivering the best resources on the Web to teachers and students through a free search engine for learning. With over 10 million online resources and 1 million questions, Gooru makes it easy to discover topic relevant and standards-aligned K-12 content to address specific students’ needs. Teachers share lessons and homework with students through Gooru collections, playlists of videos, digital textbooks, games, and quiz questions they can customize for their class. View this video to see how Gooru works.

What challenges or gaps are you trying to address and how is Gooru impacting the digital learning space?

We all know that teachers are strapped for time. As the amount of information and access to technology increases, teachers and students are now challenged with filtering through the noise. Gooru saves teachers time by giving them personalized access to the best materials on the web, the ability to organize and remix content into playlists and share with students in class or as homework. Like familiar sites you use to find movies or shop online, Gooru learns users’ preferences and unique needs through their effort and performance on the site. Gooru can suggest to teachers the exact set of learning resources that meet individual student needs, giving them a scalable solution to differentiate the materials they share with their students.

What impact does Gooru have on how and what children are learning and how are you measuring that impact?

Gooru brings the vast content of the Web to teachers and students in a way that immediately addresses their specific needs and learning styles. Students use Gooru for independent learning or when directed by their teachers during class or through homework assignments. Diana Herrington, a veteran and honored Mathematics teacher based in Clovis, CA, used Gooru to help her students learn more efficiently, and to be able to evaluate whether material is beneficial for their learning process. Using this teaching method, Diana’s participating students saw their unit test scores increase 10-15 percentage points above those who didn’t. Diana says, “my students learned that Gooru gave them an alternative for engagement in the curriculum.”

In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing happening right now in digital learning?

It is clear that personalized learning at scale through digital learning environments has the greatest potential to produce positive learning outcomes. As personalization technology is used to extend the benefits of the Web and technology for learning we are seeing innovative approaches in traditional and non-traditional learning environments propel forward with strong momentum. This can be seen by the growing number of students who are enabled to take ownership of their education with custom learning pathways based on their interests. There is compelling research showing that students who are empowered to use resources that they learn best from and at a pace that they are most comfortable with, approach learning with greater motivation.

We are also excited to see more and more classrooms coming online with smart phones, tablets and laptops. It will take some time to have all classrooms in America technology ready, though one can feel that the digital classroom with all its great benefits for learning is within reach.

How can funders, investors, educators and consumers help to develop the innovation ecosystem needed to support the creation of high-quality, scalable digital learning tools? What barriers or gaps do you see in the field?

Teachers and students have a large number of tools and learning resources accessible to them today. These independent tools and content have been supported by funders and investors over the past decade. Teachers and students are however demanding integrated solutions — not point products. They want capabilities such as search, social, wiki, analytics, personalization and assessments to work as a tight knit solution. For education to succeed in this new technology-centric era, it requires a vibrant ecosystem of funders and companies working together to foster open systems. Funders can help by requiring their grantees to develop open solutions and content and avoid duplicative efforts by leveraging open solutions. The greatest source of friction to a world of open education is the absence of platforms that every edtech company can build upon. Similar to the iOS and Android mobile platforms, or enterprise platforms such as SAP and Oracle, education needs a platform that the world can rally around.

How do you see digital learning transforming education over the next decade?

We envision a world where every student will have access to the highest quality of education and personalized learning is becoming widely accepted as the way forward to achieve this.  While technology is viewed as the catalyst for this shift in approach, it is clear teachers will continue to play a crucial role in facilitating an environment of autonomous and pervasive learning for students. This means a future education paradigm that extends beyond the four walls of a classroom and a learning path that is mapped based on a student’s interests and optimal pace administered by teachers through technology.


A few moments with Elisabeth Stock, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of CFY 

Tell us a bit about PowerMyLearning.

PowerMyLearning.org is a destination for thousands of the best free online learning activities from across the web. Developed for K-12 children, and their parents and teachers, it offers an engaging way for kids to learn while having fun. PowerMyLearning makes it simple to find and use carefully curated games, videos, and simulations that have been tagged by subject, grade, individual Common Core Standard, and more.

The platform also includes powerful tools, like our Playlist feature, which lets teachers sequence activities (like songs on iTunes) and assign them so each child gets material that’s right for them. Kids can then access these Playlists anywhere, providing them with a fun educational resource to propel achievement.

The next generation PowerMyLearning will be launching in September and will include lots of great enhancements. Later this fall, the learning experience will become even more engaging, social, and personal for kids as we integrate gamification features funded by SCE.

What challenges or gaps are you trying to address and how is PowerMyLearning impacting the digital learning space?

PowerMyLearning addresses a major challenge in the digital learning space – the dizzying array of learning content available on the web that makes it hard to know what’s trusted, what’s high-quality, and what’s age-appropriate. PowerMyLearning addresses this challenge by making it easy to find and use the most engaging and effective activities available. PowerMyLearning can be used to help children learn, by enabling them to catch up if they’re falling behind, encouraging them to push ahead if they’re not challenged enough, or just empowering them to pursue a topic of interest. A team of professional educators has already vetted the content found on PowerMyLearning so kids and their families and teachers know it’s trusted.  This team has also tagged the content by subject, grade, Common Core Standard, and more, so kids and their families and teachers can easily find and use what they need.

What impact does PowerMyLearning have on how and what children are learning and how are you measuring that impact?

PowerMyLearning helps children learn and empowers them to take charge of their learning. By making available thousands of activities, PowerMyLearning enables kids to enrich their education through exploration, sparking new interests in the process. It also offers pathways for self-remediation. Kids learn in different ways and PowerMyLearning provides them the diversity to learn in a way that works for them. Kids quickly become cognizant of their academic strengths and weaknesses and know how to help themselves advance their learning.

To measure impact, we look at academic gains at partner schools using PowerMyLearning. A New York Times article highlighted the results at one school where the use of PowerMyLearning resulted in real gains, especially for the most struggling students. Kids who had previously withdrawn from studies were suddenly re-energized by the range of fun and engaging educational activities they could access and explore on their own. We also look at time on assigned versus unassigned activities. Data shows kids spend approximately half their time on PowerMyLearning using teacher-assigned activities and half exploring activities that they have found on their own.

In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing happening right now in digital learning?

The most exciting thing happening in digital learning is the explosion of content children can now access online to meet their specific learning needs. Kids can use this content to get immediate feedback on how well they understand what they are learning and to get to know themselves better as learners. They can also use this content to explore and enrich their learning. One factor that is making this happen is the transformation taking place in the K-12 education marketplace. Basically, the marketplace is undergoing the same transformation that the music industry has already experienced – evolving from offering content in large chunks (such as a comprehensive software product or “music album”) to offering content in small granular and modular chunks (such as a short learning activity or a “song”). The benefit of this shift is that small pieces of content from different publishers can be mixed and matched and mashed up with teacher self-generated content to create the best possible learning experience for each student. We see the PowerMyLearning platform as an integral part of this transformation to granular, modular content.

How can funders, investors, educators and consumers help to develop the innovation ecosystem needed to support the creation of high-quality, scalable digital learning tools? What barriers or gaps do you see in the field?

To encourage the creation of high-quality, scalable digital learning tools, we need to change the current ecosystem. Right now, small developers have no easy distribution mechanism for getting their products into the market and instead must sell their products via relationships in a fragmented marketplace. One way funders and investors could change this ecosystem it to help platforms like PowerMyLearning remove these barriers so we can have a more vibrant marketplace where small developers can thrive.

How do you see digital learning transforming education over the next decade?

Over the next decade, we see digital learning transforming education by enabling teachers to fully personalize the learning experience for their students and also enabling kids to drive their own learning at their own pace. We believe that it’s essential to propel both a personalized instruction cycle and a student-driven learning cycle in an integrated manner. If we can do this, we can improve academic achievement nationwide and better prepare kids for college.

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