Blended learning it touted as the wave of the future, yet even now — years after the term first entered the education lexicon — schools that are attempting to adopt the approach are still encountering problems, many of them belonging squarely in the past. Michael Horn, writing for Forbes Magazine, explains that administrators who want build a blended-learning system utilizing several different providers are still routinely stymied by interoperability issues that today’s technology should have made moot.
The hurdle was explained rather succinctly by an administrator of one school currently working to bring blended learning into their classrooms: since each system employs its own proprietary format, getting the data out and inputting it into a system of a competitor is difficult in a costly and time-consuming way.
What strikes me as most noteworthy about these comments, however, is just how un-noteworthy this state of the industry is in any industry.
At the outset of any industry, the technology tends to be immature and not yet good enough for the majority of users. In order to maximize the performance of the products and services and have any hope of them getting adopted, organizations need to integrate vertically and create interdependent architectures that tightly weave different components together to optimize performance, in terms of functionality and reliability.
Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Solution, explains that lack of universally accepted standards means that each platform developer is handling and storing data in drastically different ways. Although that might create more optimized solutions, it also creates solutions that are impossible to customize and integrate with systems already in place.
The good news, however, is that as each industry matures, these kinds of problems tend to solve themselves. As the rate of adoption goes up, companies increasingly begin to listen to their customers’ demands that the products become more customizable, and able to slot in more easily into the existing infrastructure.
The new solutions that arise to offer these customized solutions have a modular architecture—where different components fit and work together in well-understood and highly defined ways. Standards arise that specify the fit and function of all elements so completely that it doesn’t matter who makes the components or subsystems, as long as they meet the specifications. Modular architectures optimize flexibility, but because they require tight specification, it limits the freedom that engineers have to push the boundaries in terms of raw functionality.
Unfortunately, this move to modularity is not happening quickly enough for some schools who are looking to create a blended learning system immediately. For some, like Summit Public Schools, that means creating a system in-house. SPS is partnering up with several companies to bring together data from different sources into its own competency-based learning model.