Why Our Nonprofit Needs a Custom Online Learning Platform
By Seewan Eng, Vice President of Digital Transformation, New Teacher Center
At the New Teacher Center, we work with educators every day to provide them with support to be truly effective. We understand that students are unique — individual learners with individual needs. Teachers and teacher leaders must have an arsenal of approaches to be able to respond to their students.
We also recognize that adults are unique and individual learners. This why the New Teacher Center is working to adapt our support to meet every educator where they are — in whatever leadership role they play in their classroom, school, district, or network.
In the same way that Sherlock Holmes eliminated the impossible to find the solution (however improbable), our digital strategy has evolved over time to ensure that educators truly benefit from our online learning services.
Our focus is on needs that are critical to achieving our goals, not chasing “shiny objects.”
New Teacher Center mission: better, faster, stronger teachers
NTC is a nonprofit professional support organization dedicated to helping teachers become “better, faster, stronger” so that every student — regardless of race, background, or zip code — receives a high-quality education.
We build capacity within districts and district partners to drive student learning, educator effectiveness, and teacher and leadership development. We do this by providing pre-K—12 teachers and school leaders with evidence-based skills and supports needed to create optimal learning environments that accelerate students’ academic and social-emotional success. We have a proven track record of supporting new teachers through our mentoring program, and we are expanding this support for veteran teachers through instructional coaching.
In addition, we have emerging strands in early learning (pre-K) and school leadership that address the field’s need for alignment across systems and key roles. When school leaders create a strong culture that supports teachers and enpowers them to be more effective educators, students succeed.
For the 20 years we’ve been providing services, we have impacted thousands of educators. And we enable a powerful ripple effect: Every teacher, coach, mentor, and principal whose effectiveness we grow impacts hundreds of students.
Using technology to amplify our impact
Technology affords an exciting opportunity to innovate and amplify, something we recognized over a decade ago when we were early pioneers of a virtual mentoring and mentor-training program.
That innovation provided a deep, powerful experience for (largely rural) participants who needed an online option due to barriers of distance and time. But it was hard to scale and sell as a 100% virtual program.
Today we are adjusting our digital strategy to even better respond to educators’ needs: to integrate online experiences elegantly into our face-to-face learning opportunities, in-field coaching, and networking services.
We know that districts’ needs are great, but time and resources are limited. Tech-enabled tools can help our partners invest in the most engaging, relevant, and effective learning experiences possible.
We want technology to allow educators to apply their learning in their contexts, get on-demand support, and get feedback to continuously improve practice.
4 reasons why our partners need a custom online learning experience
Custom learning experiences allows us to offer educators a sustainable network of analytics to improve practice in their classrooms, schools, and districts. Through this unique and blended model, educators can better understand their own practice — what’s resonating and having impact, what’s not — and adjust accordingly.
A custom online learning experience provides the best pathway for leveraging technology innovations that enhance the user experience, make use of learning science, and provide robust analytics.
With a custom learning experience, we can:
1 — Get better, faster
We want to create an experience that is more accessible, more flexible, and less time intensive for educators so that they can, ultimately, elevate their practice and help students succeed. We know that it’s hard to sustain and scale professional growth opportunities that pull educators out of schools and classrooms for eight days of the school year. Districts need more flexibility to structure learning opportunities at times and intervals that better fit educators’ work cycles.
A custom online experience allows us to build additional learning checkpoints in order to review, practice, and get feedback more frequently — activities we know that lead to mastery sooner.
2 — Personalize the experience
Just like the teachers they support, coaches, mentors, and school leaders start their professional practices with varying backgrounds and experiences.
Often, they need to catch up or deepen content knowledge; mentoring and coaching adults is very different from teaching students. The learning has to be differentiated and responsive to their immediate needs.
Districts also need to add value to content and systems they’ve already invested in. Online platforms need to contextualize learning opportunities and allow personalized pathways that build on existing knowledge and past implementation efforts to ensure success.
3 — Use data to measure success
A robust set of assessments and analytics helps locate individuals along the continuum of proficiency and mastery. By mapping curriculum and tools to competencies, a customized learning platform can provide better data about what’s working, which can then influence feedback and future actions that elevate individual practice and support overall professional growth and impact.
We want to see growth at all levels — across classrooms, schools, programs, and districts — and we have to see it on a daily or weekly basis.
4 — Accommodate our future vision.
Out-of-the-box learning management systems have limited customizability. In the past, we’ve found their frameworks are too linear and simplistic to support our more intensive, complex learning engagements.
We want an online platform that will respond to our partners’ needs as well as keep pace with our evolving expertise in creating powerful adult learning experiences. A flexible content-authoring tool is a huge advantage and helps ensure we continue to experiment and build capacity in years to come.
We want to continue to be pioneers — in how we embed social interaction in learning, in how we turbocharge the impact of individual coaching with timely analytics — so it is critical that our platform accommodates our future pipeline and imagination.
We believe it’s a smart investment to build a customized learning experience that provides the functionality we currently require while also affording us the flexibility to accommodate future needs.
This is why we’ve chosen to partner with ExtensionEngine to help us design and build the platform we know we need. As we approach the launch of our MVP (minimum viable product) with a pilot cohort this July, we continue to work on our digital road map, knowing that we will iterate and learn together with ExtensionEngine.
This is just the beginning of an exciting journey. We are committed to keeping the users and the impact we make at the heart and center of all that we do — and given the importance of leveraging our mission, we intend to be very, very bold about it.