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It isn’t easy building an equity driven learning platform, but somebody has to do it

I once built a widget that had over 1 million views a day serving celebrity data. After building a several educational systems potentially serving over 500000 kids, I have to say learning just can’t compete with Hollywood. There are learning management systems that teachers love; there are classroom management systems that school districts love; there are even learning apps that funders love. However, the question that drives me and pushes the entire Digital Youth Network team is what does the most impactful integrative learning platform look like, and how can we build it?

Why Learning?

Education is a great equalizer of communities with varying resources. Many lives would change with a more effective learning cycle. (There are many models of learning cycles, but a simply version to consider is Experience>Share>Process>Generalize>Apply.) Typically public investments focus on the educational system and how to create personalized experiences for students in a one-size fits all learning environments. Contrarily, private investors attempt to influence learning in the out of school spaces by funding innovative programs targeted at specific communities, age ranges or even domains such as STEM. They all need to work together.

Young learners need a stronger, more engaged network with better empowering tools.

This network and set of tools can be described as an integrative learning platform whose objective is to create a replicable process to enable young learners that are proficient at exploring, discovering and building skills. The integrative aspect of the solution extends to the learner’s parents and caring adults. They’ll promote growth and be empowered to help add to their child’s learning portfolio. School teachers and mentors will activate and push opportunities to the learner that could start creating a formal learning trajectory. 

Our platform solution: L3. Learning takes place everywhere—in-school, out of school and online.

Design the foundation of L3: Mapping Learning Assets

Besides the learners themselves, the most important part of the network is the infrastructure that provides learning opportunities. The basic infrastructure is the collection of organizations, programs and its mentors, and the learning spaces. From the perspective of building a data architecture model, our platform has to understand and codify each of these data types.

› Organization – group offering programs with a particular purpose

› Program – a face to face activity run in a specific community for a particular cohort.

› Mentor – admin running the program working with the learners

› Learning spaces – facilities that enable learning to occur with built in resources and/or valuable community space

Pulling all of these disparate learning data together is called asset mapping. Asset mapping is all the rage these days. Smart cities have to understand their resources around the region to be efficient, effective planners. When we start asset mapping the community’s learning assets, we discover where learning happens (and does not happen) and we know who is responsible for providing learning opportunities. This knowledge alone could enable the community to make some strategic decisions, if they can gather everyone around the same table.

As the platform Tech Lead, I consider this level of detail about the infrastructure a requirement. Our platform must be able to identify gaps in equity around programs and organizations serving underserved communities. It’s part of Digital Youth Network’s mission:

DYN designs learning systems to ensure that all youth, especially the underserved, cultivate the critical skills, literacies and agency necessary to have the opportunity to create lives that are engaged, empowered and successful.

We strive for equity in each learning community we set out to positively impact. We structure, collect and package data that our clients export to influence their decisions, inform their partners, and if they work with the city’s pillars like school districts or mayoral offices, then they share reports with power brokers and start reshaping the ecosystem in the desired image. Our data are built to expose inequity and to inform decisions towards improving learning equity.

Case Study: Is transportation provided for a program?

We discovered an equity-building attribute for programs while working with one of our clients. A program for middle school girls, Digital Divas, was being offered in two locations—the second was commissioned because one location was not considered attractive to a subset of learners coming from an underserved ward according to the client’s previous informal findings. Additionally, the program administrator decided to offer transportation based on previous experiences with after school programs in large communities.

What happened?

The program administrator generated a report from the collected infrastructure data (organization and program metadata including location) and combined it with demographic information of the participants. Girls from the underserved ward attended the location that was predicted to be a deterrent. With the data generated, we concluded that organization-provided transportation in this scenario was a game changer. The after school transportation made an available program more accessible and created an equitable cohort for a program feared to be under attended by their target audience.

Organization provided transportation is now a permanent flag or an attribute to our program data object to help clients and researchers identify programs that are making the extra effort to increase equity in their community.

There’s more to it…

In our quest to build an integrative learning platform, our understanding of the community’s learning asset map was the most important step but only the first milestone. There are more data to codify, there is always the drive for improved user experience and there is content, relevance, gamification…there’s a lot for us to do.

Next time, I will breakdown something else from my experience of building L3, maybe APIs and how they extend learning opportunities.

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