Learning Pods Aren't Going Away

Plus, what exactly is an OPM?

Learning pods were all the rage last year. But did you know that 1.5 million children are still enrolled in a pod or microschool, according to Tyton Partners, an education advisory firm?

At roughly 3% of the K–12 schooling population, that’s a significant number. And it’s not just upper-income families enjoying their benefits.

My latest piece at Education Next chronicles the research behind several pods that have had institutional backing—and suggests that this trend will outlast the pandemic.

No, I’m not convinced that 10 million students might be learning in pods or microschools in the next few years; that would be higher than the number of students enrolled in private and charter schools combined prior to the pandemic.

But if districts, parents, and private operators can maintain some momentum behind pods and microschools, their systemic impact could be significant as one more schooling choice in a broader sea of options than just one’s neighborhood school. Check out my latest at Education Next titled, “Some Pods Will Outlast the Pandemic: Students, parents say they appreciate the support.”

Where Are Students Learning This Year?

My piece on pods coincided with our latest Class Disrupted podcast, “Where Are Students Learning This Year?” In it, Diane Tavenner interviewed me about what we know about enrollment trends in K­–12 and higher education—and what it portends.

Diane framed the podcast in the beginning with an important statement: “I’m going to admit that as a lifelong public educator, I honestly have a really big blind spot about kids learning in places other than well, honestly in school buildings.” That was important, because as she and I discussed, we are all learning all the time—not just in schools. Perhaps the bigger trick is how to make that “outside” learning “count” in our formal systems of education.

To that end, I interviewed my longtime friend and collaborator Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the Aurora Institute, on my YouTube channel last week about the broader opportunities for transformation around competency-based learning, new ways of assessing student learning, and more.

I learned many things from Susan, but one that I’ll highlight here is this: States often say they have many policies that allow for waivers from seat-time requirements and pave the way for mastery-based learning. But educators are busy people (yes, that’s an understatement). If they must jump through bureaucratic hoops and spend precious time investigating and applying to take advantage of those waivers, most won’t take advantage of them. States need a more robust set of policies that allow competency-based learning to be the default mode of operating. Check out the conversation, “A New Dawn for Every Learner,” here.

OPMs Explained

Finally, on Future U, Jeff Selingo and I aired a very different kind of episode this past week. In “Higher Ed 101: What’s An OPM?” we sat down with edtech analyst Phil Hill, cofounder of Mind Wires and author of a terrific blog, PhilOnEdTech. OPMs—or online program management companies—are a hot topic in higher education right now. They’ve come under increasing scrutiny from policymakers and have been featured in many stories in outlets like the Wall Street Journal.

The purpose of the episode is to do a deep dive on what precisely an OPM is to try and get beyond the jargon of education. We intend to start doing a few more of these with other terms concepts in higher education. So after listening, let us know what you think.

Thanks as always for reading, writing, and listening.