Creating a Vision to Support Next Generation Learning

Schools and Districts too often have a blurry vision of what “technology” means and can do to enhance and support teaching and learning. Technology plans litter the floor of education – well intended roll outs of piece meal plans and wasted educational dollars. In today’s learning environment it is imperative that educational leaders are digitally literate and can help shape a vision of what next generation learning environments look like.

Next Generation Learning Environments (NGLE) are not laptop carts, computer labs, tablets, laptops or online curriculum. NGLE requires an unconstrained vision – and a complete rethink of EVERY step of educational delivery. It is not a budget issue – it is a reinvent and reallocation challenge!

Key considerations to creating NGLE’s are a clear and supporting vision that will lay the foundation for a success. Below are 6 foundational pillars that are critical to shaping future of education.

  • Broadband (to every student home)
  • Curriculum & PD (web enabled curriculum & assessment)
  • Digital Policy & Tools (every student has a take home device)
  • Facilities (schools look more like starbucks & less “bells & cells”)
  • Finance (a plan to support and measure)
  • Infrastructure (shift to cloud & everything has to work all the time)

Below are some guiding principles for each of the pillars to help shape a school or district plan.


  • Provide students with mobile access to broadband connectivity anytime/anyplace, while leveraging resources and partnerships to drive down costs.
  • Ensure sustainable funding to provide access at home and beyond for all students.
  • Create Broadband Task Force (District, Business, Government) to explore equitable access for all.

> Takeaway: Districts need to ensure EVERY student has high speed internet to the home.

Curriculum and Professional Development.

  • Create learner-centered environments that support collaboration and critical thinking.
  • Incorporate reputable online resources and real-time data to differentiate instruction and engage students with real-world content.
  • Implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessment.
  • Online tutoring (multilingual) for ALL students.
  • Foster digital literacy and parental/community involvement.
  • Build scalable leader and teacher professional development models.

> Takeaway: The only way to personalize AND pace learning is to leverage and embed online curriculum & assessment. Real time diagnostics & remediation.

Digital Tools and Policy.

  • Provide equity of access to all students with individual devices and 24/7 connectivity.
  • Laptop for every student.
  • Standardize devices and to reduce costs and insure uptime.
  • Re-evaluate all policies regarding privacy, materials, AUP (Acceptable Use Policy), and compliance with CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act).

> Takeaway: A take home laptop for EVERY student. Standardize & support. Automate device reimaging. Genius Bar at every school. Everything has to work all the time.


  • Safe, open, welcoming learning spaces that respect neighborhood culture, with group tables, quiet corners, large gathering spaces that facilitate different instructional modes, private learning, informal gatherings & community experiences.
  • Develop new design guidelines for both new school buildings and the redesign of existing schools.
  • Incorporate sustainable strategies that create lifelong sustainable advocates.
  • Support teacher collaboration and professional development.
  • Student-centered environments that ensures student ownership, choice, collaboration and interaction among students and staff.

> Takeaway: Overhaul school design…..shift from bells and cells to schools that look more like Starbucks. Library shifts to collaborative learning center with multi credentialed staff & online learning.


  • Robust, flexible, sustainable infrastructure to enable anytime/anyplace learning and extend the learning environment from school to home and beyond.
  • Support wireless, wired, and 1:1 environments, plus building systems
  • Accessibility digital dashboards and portals.
  • Shift to the cloud now.

> Takeaway: If it can not be supported – don’t deploy it. Move to the cloud for best of class applications from LMS to SIS – lower cost, increase accessibility, uptime and scale – IT roles shift to cloud support.


  • Provide policy makers and administrators with robust indicators of every transformative project’s key implementation factors (KIF) aligned to District goals.
  • Pursue new funding sources and repurposing current funding by moving expenditures away from textbooks and structured classrooms toward virtual learning, digital content and personalized learning.
  • Inform policy with data-driven decision making and informational analytics, supported by ongoing independent review of prioritization and funding metrics.
  • Student devices – 3 year device refresh rate. Budget $300 per student, per year for device, insurance & support.

> Takeaway: Rethink cost of delivery. Less “seat of the pants” allocation of resources. Measure and remeasure. NGLE reduces cost of delivery & increases teacher time per student. New metric – time per student, not teacher per student.

Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District Cindy Marten appointed Matt Spathas to Chair and facilitate a robust discussion and wide range of policy and new ideas with the goal of creating next generation learning environments that engage, empower, and educate students and prepare them for the 21st century global community. The task force was made up of over 80 stakeholders drawn from business, education, community, government, and SDUSD, including teachers, principals, students, and central office staff. A web site ( was created and all agendas, meeting minutes, reference materials and work products were posted real time.

Six subcommittees were created to formulate ideas and develop an unconstrained vision of next generation learning environments in the areas of Curriculum and Professional Development, Facilities, Digital Policy and Tools, Infrastructure, Finance and Broadband.

Each subcommittee was co-chaired by an SDUSD staff member and a representative from the community, business, government, or education. Over the 90-day period over 1,000 hours were contributed by the dedicated and passionate committee members. To see the final report see i21now Final Report

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