At BbWorld 2015, there was a lot of discussion—and alignment—about how our primary focus should be learner success. We talked about how “learning never stops,” as well as how and why Blackboard has shifted to a learner-centric strategy. We are not alone in this focus. There is relatively broad acceptance that change is needed in education and a growing understanding that the change should be centered around the needs of the learners: for what that represents for individuals and for what it does for the societies and economies of which they are a part. Because education is about both the individual’s success and the cumulative contributions of multiple individuals for a sustainable and better future.

I for one am very excited about change in education. And about the opportunity we all have to participate in driving forward innovation and change that can advance what is indisputably one of the most important things we do as a society.

I get especially excited when I see what people are doing to create change—change to the delivery model of education, change to the business model of education, change from institution-centric processes to learner-centric processes. And how better to learn about change than to hear from those who are doing it in real life, today.

So as part of our BbWorld main stage, we invited an amazing panel of leaders in the field to talk about how innovation at the institution (just like learning) doesn’t stop and to share their experiences and perspectives. Change is not easy – it’s especially not easy in education. We can all learn from those who are overcoming obstacles, pushing on the status quo, and learning lessons valuable to us all. Because no matter what role we all play in education, there is always something each one of us can do to drive positive innovation for lifelong learners.

I took a lot away from the panel and I wanted to share what for me were the key insights.

#1. Innovation doesn’t have to be big

We can do small things with big impact. While each of our leaders has a role in advancing fairly disruptive change, they were unanimous in their belief that change doesn’t have to be big and disruptive to make a large impact. From moving to more Open Educational Resources to drive down the cost of education, to empowering students with data to make good choices about their pathways, they shared examples of and a passion for accessible change that can drive learner success.

#2. Engage the student voice/perspective in meaningful ways

The panel shared passion about using the learner voice to drive change and examples of how we could empower them to apply their voices to change and innovation on their campuses:

  • Richard Culatta, the former Director of the Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Dept. of Education, urged everyone to engage students not just on committees, but in the actual day-to-day activities of the institution. In his experience, pairing students with leadership and faculty at higher education institutions in “reverse mentor roles” can drive more meaningful and immediate change than having “experts” like himself making recommendations.
  • Kris Clerkin, Executive Director of College for America at Southern New Hampshire University, shared that students experience direct improvements to progress and performance after contributing to learning communities.
  • Kent Hopkins, Vice Provost for Enrollment Services at Arizona State University, uses data to help understand student behavior, trying to humanize that data as much as possible. His institution surveys students four weeks into the semester – a good way, he says, to find students who are not actively raising their hands for help, but are willing to raise a hand behind the scenes.

#3. Provide choice and flexibility in both how and what learners can learn, but be sure to do it with guidance

Richard Culatta also pointed out that, once we get students into the higher education system, we do a generally poor job of guiding them along the way. He very cleverly related this problem to getting lost when you’re driving a car. If you’re using a GPS – which the vast majority of us now have right in the palm of our hands via our smartphone – if you make a wrong turn, it simply and kindly redirects you. So Richard begged the question, “where is that in higher education? Where is a Learning Positioning System?” We need tools and resources that help students stay on track to where they want to go, and perhaps more importantly, provide flexible guidance when they diverge from that path.

#4. Think creatively about the future of education

We ended the panel by asking this great group of thinkers about how they would like to be able to describe education in the future.

  • Kris Clerkin: “We need a system that’s designed for me and my life, and helps me leverage the learning and experiences I have to go further, faster, than I ever have before.”
  • Richard Culatta: “There is a Venn diagram with two circles – what students need and what they expect, and what education is, and it overlaps a little bit. I’d love to see those two circles 100% overlap.”
  • Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director of Education Policy at New America: “Meet students where they are, and take them where they need to go.”
  • Kent Hopkins: “Our largest student growth population comes from our lowest socioeconomic families. We have to think creatively and differently about a connection for them to the benefits of post-secondary education.”

For more inspiration, view the entire panel session at

Share your thoughts and successes in innovation at your institution here and join us in continued conversations on how institutional innovation can help inspire the world to learn.

Join us at BbWorld to learn, connect, and advance the future of education

Related Posts

Share This Article

Twitter Facebook LinkedIn Pinterest Email