Blackboard’s “Modern-Day Pragmatism” K-12 Trend Report


The following blog, in its original form, was published on April 20, 2015 and is authored by Jon Kolko, at the time Vice President of Design at Blackboard. 

As we redesign our products to support the emergent new learning experience, we conduct qualitative, immersive research with people. This is a form of ethnographic research intended to help us both understand those we serve, but also to empathize with them. We’ve spent hours with students and instructors, and learned about their changing wants, needs, and desires. We’ve recently concluded a robust research effort in the k12 ecosystem in the United States, spending time with parents, teachers, and administrators. This research leverages a variety of activities to help participants visualize how they feel throughout the day, and how they go about accomplishing their goals.

We’ll use this research to inform new product development at Blackboard, and to help refine and improve the usability and utility of our current products. We’re also presenting the results of this research here, in the hopes that it will help others in improving the quality of products aimed at higher education. You can download a short-form of this research here; our key findings are summarized below.


  1. An expectation of inclusion has led to personalized learning in a supportive context, but has increased the workload and demands on the individual k-12 instructor. Instead of removing a student from the classroom who is identified as having a learning disability or as gifted, there is a push to maintain all levels in a single classroom.
  2. The power-dynamic between parents and teachers has shifted, creating new opportunities for family and community, and new challenges for k-12 administrators in positioning their school. As a result of increased school specialization, parents have more choice in where their children attend school, and can therefore exert pressure over administration to change culture or content.
  3. Teachers enjoy the benefits of content curation and experiential learning, but must continue to juggle this with what they view as the relentless dogma of testing and the menial overhead of paperwork. Teachers find the current paper based system as antiquated and adding unnecessary frustration and stress that bleeds into their personal lives.
  4. Parents are expecting more interaction with the schools and a holistic picture of how their child is performing – including visibility into emotional well being, happiness, and engagement with peers. Parents want a full picture of the student, one that is actionable and real-time.
  5. Communication boundaries between parents, teachers and students have eroded, challenging the notion of “appropriate” digital relationships. This means that all parties need to negotiate new boundaries related to frequency, content, and audience of communication.
  6. Experiential learning has changed the role of the k-12 teacher, from knowledge-source to experience facilitator. This implies a different set of teaching methods and a different set of educational outcomes. Teachers need to become more comfortable with a broader, worldly set of skills – facilitating a cultural educational space, rather than disseminating knowledge.
  7. The benefits of the changing k-12 landscape are realized only by families in strong socio-economic cultures. This results in a dramatically impoverished learning experience for at-risk students.

Download a short-form of this research here.