Five key takeaways from the Learning Counsel National Gathering

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(Last Updated On: January 9, 2019)

“Teaching in the Internet age means we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.”
~ Jennifer Fleming, Associate Professor, California State University

The future of education is upon us‒and it’s digital. The Learning Counsel National Gathering was held from November 28-30, 2018 at the Four Seasons hotel in Houston, Texas. Each year education leaders and industry stakeholders come together to discuss national research and the shift to digital curriculum. According to the Learning Counsel, this is the only event nationally to focus on trends and happenings in education’s software landscape, the implications to networks, operations, and teaching.

The Learning Counsel is a research institute and news media hub founded in 2014 with the mission to “help transform and bring order to education systems and infrastructure through sound implementation of digital curriculum strategies, engendering coordination and cooperation between teachers, administrators, and publishers; ultimately helping all students everywhere become more engaged in their own learning and knowledge for life success.”

Educators from across the country were featured in tandem with breakout sessions, presentations, and vendor tables from the nearly 30 sponsors such as Microsoft, Zia Learning, Hewlett-Packard, RoboKind, Scholastic Digital, LightSpeed, STEMscopes, Canon, ClassLink, and Technology Integration Group, to name a few. The event was chock full of useful information from the products and platforms that serve educational institutions and from the educators out in the field actively using them to improve learning, grades, and achievement. Here are five key takeaways from the event to help inform and inspire a new year of excellence in education.

#1: “People Don’t Buy What You Do; They Buy Why You Do It”
Mike Mattingly, assistant superintendent of Denton ISD in Texas, presented on re-branding through social media. He shared that his school district had an outdated logo, mission statement, and goals that were in critical need of updates. They crowd-sourced a new logo design so each visual element reflected the heart and soul of the brand and trimmed down the existing verbiage to reflect the promise of their community and district in a more user-friendly way. His advice on re-branding is to keep it purposeful but simple: “If you can’t tell your brand story to a nine-year-old it’s no good.”

#2: “Digitally Delivered Gets into the Classroom Faster”
AJ Hunter, educator and STEM account manager of STEMscopes, a digital learning resource for PreK-12, spoke about the benefits of digital education. He stated that digitally-delivered information is integrated into the classroom faster, provides richer content for students, offers job-embedded professional development for teachers, enables up-to-date content since it is flexible vs. fixed content like a textbook, and works across the classroom spectrum. Educators from Lamar Consolidated ISD, who utilize STEMscopes in their district, lent first-hand perspectives adding that tech ends the one-way conversation of teachers lecturing and allows for cross-curriculum learning. In their district’s STEM-based software, part of the lesson plan encompasses the broader scope of writing and communication for science. The state of California is paving the way, moving beyond standalone subjects by merging science, biology, chemistry, and other sciences for a more integrated learning model.

#3: “Start With Your ‘Why?’ ”
Luncheon keynote speaker Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum for St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, advised attendees to “find your why.” When educators are speaking and promoting the critical reasons for evolution to digital platforms, it’s imperative to be clear on the “why?” because it allows them to counter pushback and explain their vision with passion and purpose so people can be inspired to come on board. Then they can get to the “what?” and the “how?” as next steps. He affirmed the need to evolve past a passive “sit and get” model of learning with the teacher on stage to student-centered learning with the student at the core of the process. Charles said we are “preparing our students for that competitive advantage as they go out [into the world].”

#4: “Push Past Fear”
The educator panel, moderated by AJ Hunter, combined the viewpoints of several education leaders. Dewayne McClary, director of digital learning and innovation for the District of Columbia Public Schools shared that teachers have rebuffed digital platforms with complaints like, “I don’t have time to learn all of this.” He offered the solution to put the greater onus on the kids to learn the platform, with the teacher serving as the facilitator. In his experience, teachers have also been reluctant about the reliability of the technology. Another concern was the different levels of tech-related expertise creating a concern of appearing unprepared in front of students. McClary believes fear underlies the resistance to integrating tech in classrooms. To combat that fear, he advised that administrators build trust and show versus tell. He recalled one school visit in his district where kids whizzed by him running to class. It wasn’t because they were late, however; they were simply excited about the digital game-based learning platform Kahoot! used in their classroom.

#5: “Outlook for 2019”
Learning Counsel CEO and founder LeiLani Cauthen synthesized all of the breakout sessions with a look forward into the upcoming landscape. She lent insight and inspiration to the 2018 gathering theme, “Designed for Digital,” stating that design flaws exist in education and design from the outside-in is “the only way to do it.” She reminded attendees that business has become the internet, and tech makes people have to be “on” 24/7. Cauthen cited the staggering statistic that 86% of Americans have a smartphone by age 10 on average, and in this minute-to-minute news cycle, people have short attention spans. As a society, we have to watch outside cultural influences like tech developments and usage to understand how to get kids to actually learn. The majority of Americans support school choice; the “why?” that everyone agrees to is that kids must be educated, but differing opinions arise over the “what?” and the “how?” between the “unschoolers” (a type of homeschooling with student-directed learning) and myriad viewpoints on the best way to educate our youth. Cauthen directed attendees to the 47-page special report created by the Learning Counsel that discussed overall trends, big ideas, what leading schools are doing to be designed for digital, and provided a checklist for change to help ensure students and teachers are prepared for a personalized classroom. The report cited that 3,800 brick and mortar retail stores closed in 2018 due to the failure to adapt to the evolving digital landscape and that success in education requires not only adopting tech but also adapting the entire organizational structure to fit the tech age.


Across the board, education technology is helping to advance the trajectory of education, to provide more flexibility in teaching and learning, and to close critical gaps in performance and outcomes to prepare youth for the future. The Renaissance ACT/SAT Benchmark Tool was featured as the Learning Counsel “App of the Week” in December. The app is a free tool designed to help educators determine their students’ progress toward ACT and SAT benchmarks as early as 6th grade. The impact of this tech tool is that the earlier educators can identify which students are on track to reach college and career readiness benchmarks and which need additional support, the earlier they can intervene to help ensure student success.

If you missed the 2018 gathering, the keynotes and panels are viewable in the National Gathering playlist on the organization’s YouTube channel. The Learning Counsel website and newsletter also feature beneficial information ongoing, and there are opportunities to stay engaged and connected through the KnowStory platform, the first social media site for education. The progress underway to help districts, schools, and students excel in their educational pursuits is promising, and the Learning Counsel is serving as a catalyst to support this growth in 2019 and beyond.

Five key takeaways from the Learning Counsel National Gathering