Removing Barriers to Digital Learning in the Classroom

March 30, 2012 | by aharris

Today’s guest post on Discovery Blog is from Bill Goodwyn, President of Global Distribution and CEO of Discovery Education at Discovery Communications.

Bill Goodwyn


On February 1, 2012, Digital Learning Day, Secretary Duncan and Chairman Genachowski challenged the country to complete the conversion from print textbooks to interactive digital learning within five years.

Yesterday, Secretary Duncan and Chairman Genachowski took the courageous next step of assembling the CEOs from the top 15 educational technology companies in the United States to talk about how to make that challenge a reality in classrooms across America.

At Discovery Education, we talk to many districts across the country every week – urban and suburban, small and large, those with traditional classrooms and those with digital classrooms – and through those conversations, we consistently hear that a few formidable barriers still exist for districts looking to deploy digital learning tools successfully.

While the education community is intimately familiar with these barriers, it’s important for the non-educational community to understand the obstacles so that every man, woman and child in our country can advocate for the changes that our schools need in order to propel this digital learning initiative forward.

Also, while there are certainly many complex and nuanced issues related to creating transformation in schools, the core truths can be boiled down in terms that are as simplistic as “four things my grandmother would have said.”

1. “Just because you give a dog a hammer, it doesn’t make him a carpenter.” Translation: Interactive tools without thoughtful integration into classrooms rarely lead to improved instruction…or elevated achievement.

2. “If you can’t afford a Hyundai, you definitely can’t afford a Cadillac.” Translation: Schools were suffering economic challenges when buying hard textbooks, and to raise the price point for digital textbooks will just throw our public educational system into further economic malaise.

3. “You can’t give a man shoelaces if he only owns slip-on shoes.” Translation: If we are committed to getting digital learning into the hands of students and teachers, we need to ensure that we are providing them with tools that work on the devices that they have access to.

4. “20th century laws can’t work for 21st century people.” Translation: While instructional materials funding was critical for providing equitable access to textbooks when it was instituted, the current wording and rules around these funds are preventing dollars from being used to provide students with equitable access to 21st century content. More flexibility is needed in funding policies in order for our students to benefit from content that provides up-to-date knowledge and information.

I applaud Secretary Duncan and Chairman Genachowski for being committed to moving these issues forward, and marshaling both public and private support to set into motion the critical elements that schools need in order to create successful, engaging, 21st century learning environments to prepare our children for the workforce of the future.

  • Max B.

    Great points. My grandmother says: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” Some would mistakenly interpret this to mean that they should be content with the status quo. However, the status quo is not and will not be enough to keep up with a dynamic world where the stakes are raised higher and higher each day. 
    It might still be possible to send a message via carrier pigeon, but if the rest of the world is using video-conferencing or instant messaging tools, it will be quite difficult to be a part of the conversation.My grandmother’s statement highlights the need to change and adapt with time or become irrelevant. Not only should every person within the educational and non-educational community be advocating for change, but they should also be well versed in understanding the reasons why change is so crucial in the first place.