Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gates Foundation Shared Learning Collaborative - a special education angle?

I came across the Shared Learning Collaborative ( while attending a conference in Silicon Valley. It's a Gates Foundation funded initiative to enhance American education by providing an open source framework for disseminating and evaluating educational interventions.

The conference was on analytics, so there the SLC representatives emphasized the process of gathering (anonymized) data on learners and interventions, with the goal of matching student traits to a large repository of traits and outcomes [2]. In the ideal world, the system provides a personalized education program. The vision reminded me of the training module in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

They're not thinking about special education, but of course when I hear "personalized learning strategies" the connection is painfully obvious. Whatever is developed for 'the bottom 10%' [1] is likely to overlap significantly with what our learners need. I'm particularly interested in lifelong learning and training for special education teens and adults; when you're fighting for every bit of freedom that's possible lifelong education takes on new meaning.

The SLC is in early startup phase. Normally I wouldn't track them at this point, but Gates Foundation money is a significant asset. I signed up to be notified of progress. The site doesn't mention this, but they have a twitter feed @slcedu.

[1] I suppose they could also be focusing on the top 10% who will work for Silicon Valley, but it's pretty clear that the Foundations interest is the bottom 30% of the student population -- the group that, as adults, will be shut out of the world economy. That group overlaps with our population.
[2] The same vision that has been a part of electronic health records since the 1970s.

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