Tom Vander Ark - Quotes and Thoughts

Tom is the CEO of Getting Smart, a learning design firm and one of the leading voices in the upcoming education revolution. I first came across Tom on Twitter, where he is very active. This encounter led me to become a loyal reader of the Getting Smart blog.

I find myself recommending quotes and articles of Tom's a bit too often.

So, I thought it may be more efficient to compile a list of my favorite quotes and links from Tom’s body of work.

Short disclaimer: This post by no means claims to be an objective representation of Tom's views or work. It simply contains his work that resonate with me.

Where to connect with Tom :

Twitter - @tvanderark

Writing - and Forbes

Tom on Linkedin

1. My conversation with Tom on our podcast

In this discussion, we talk about how all schools can take steps towards personalized learning and competency-based learning. We list some of the challenges that they might face, and how to overcome them. Tom makes a very interesting point on how units of learning are changing from “course-based learning” towards “platform networks”. (Shownotes)

39 of my Favorite Quotes from Tom's Articles on Getting Smart

Future of Learning

Kids are still factoring polynomials and that’s just dumb. Requiring every student to pass a course on regurgitated symbol manipulation (Algebra 2) is torturous for many students and why some dropout. (source)
Rather than focusing on computation (including factoring those nasty polynomials), students should be building data sets and using computers to do what they’re good at–calculations. (source)
Machine learning will recommend the next best thing to learn, compare outcomes from different tools and schools, schedule time, and (eventually) guide vehicles that transport pupils to learning facilities. (source)
As the number of school, community, and work-based learning experiences expand, many young people will be able to co-construct unique pathways. It will make the advisory function even more important. (source)
Young people that have access to informed guidance and an opportunity to test out a variety of career pathways through work-based learning have a big leg up. In fact, the guidance gap may be a bigger barrier to more young people achieving success in life than the achievement gap. (source)
We see a dozen trends shaping the future of learning (particularly P-12):
  1. Personalized skill building
  2. Community-connected projects with public products
  3. Dynamic grouping (skill, interest, theme, age) and scheduling
  4. Progress on demonstrated mastery with teacher and machine-scored tasks
  5. AR/VR + Voice as the new interface for a 4 screen day
  6. Interoperable formative provides composite real-time status
  7. Expanded (official) student records and portable (curated) learner profiles
  8. Smart recommendations provide informed options
  9. Stackable micro credentials (earned anywhere) signal progress
  10. Rapid pathways to good jobs and affordable postsecondary
  11. Space that supports dynamic models (with cheap, safe transport)
  12. Talent development is personalized and competency-based (source)

Future of Work

Most professions in the 21st century exceed the capabilities of any individual and require cross-functional teams to deliver properly. (source)
Most young people are going to lead lives full of novelty and complexity in an innovation economy powered by exponential technology and entrepreneurship. The majority of working adults will soon be freelancers but they’ll often be delivering value as members of diverse distributed teams. The level of opportunity to contribute is unprecedented–as is the challenge and disruption posed by colliding systems. (source)
The social economy will require a contribution rather than extraction mindset. Instead of trying to find a job, the focus will be on adding value. Instead of “waiting to be picked” (as Seth Godin said in a recent podcast), people will “pick themselves” and offer their services on platforms.
Like the shift from seat time to competency in learning, the shift from selling hours to measured efficacy will unlock latent energy in the social economy. Initially, platforms will include a dashboard of proxy measures. Over time, systems that accurately gauge contributions to growth and well-being will improve. (source)

Designing for School Change

Every community is experiencing high levels of change and is struggling to interpret signals about what’s to come. It’s time for a community conversation. School communities, employers, civic leaders, and service organizations should begin (or accelerate) a conversation about what’s happening, what it means, and how to prepare. (source)
There’s not a magic formula to foundational ideas. Some schools focus on pedagogical frames (like design thinking) or underserved groups (like over-aged under-credited students). Some focus on bargains (like early college or P-tech), or attractive job clusters (like robotics or biotech).
The point is that all good schools stake a claim, they stand for something, they pick a lane and go hard. They don’t accept what they inherited as a given. (source)
Most schools cannot figure this out on their own. Personalized and project-based learning is complicated. Developing aligning structures, spaces, schedules, and staffing is hard. Building an integrated technology stack is complicated. Most measures are immature and hard to combine. (source)
Good schools rely on partners to expand their offerings and supports. (source)
The leaders and teachers that promote sharing attitudes and skills, tools and agreements will invent our shared future. Let’s teach kids to share. Let’s give youth opportunities to experience success making community contributions. (source)
Students who know that their work and voices will be seen and heard by their community and peers are infinitely more engaged than those who know their products, ideas and projects are going to die in a pile of papers. (source)
Moving from a compliant “turn it in” culture to a “good work is done here” culture requires making work public through exhibitions and student-led conferences. (source)
Good schools [...] have a “We are going to get you there” mindset. (source)
Discipline-based courses are a relic of education as knowledge transmission. Today, knowledge is freely available and what’s important is how you combine it with skills to deliver value.
While containers continue to be a useful construct in shipping, and concrete cores and I beams remain a useful skeleton in commercial construction, courses have outlived their usefulness as the primary architectural unit in education because they do not represent consistent units of learning. (source)
With more competency-based, place-based and work-based learning, online learning and dual enrollment, space requirements are going down and changing. The rise of rideshare and autonomous transportation will accelerate the trend toward community-based learning and the need for flexibility. (source)
With the growth of the public charter school sector, the rise of tech-infused learning models, and the migration of student populations across options and geographies, it’s time for us to rethink the relationship between learning programs and public facilities. (source)

Project-Based Learning

Extended community-connected projects offer at least seven benefits to students:
  1. Big multistep projects teach the practical skills of project management.
  2. Challenging projects build the habits of persistence (sometimes called grit) and self-direction.
  3. If they include some degree of voice and choice, projects build ownership and motivation (with self-direction, these dispositions are often called agency).
  4. Integrated challenges teach critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Problems with no easy answer build design skills.
  5. Team projects develop social awareness and collaboration skills.
  6. Projects often conclude with written and oral reports that build communication skills across the disciplines (e.g. writing about science).
  7. Well-designed projects conclude in a public product that may make a community contribution and allow young people to experience the benefits of service. (source)
Traditional teaching asks students to learn because the teacher said to. Project-based learning brings students into contact with new concepts and skills through a problem, context, or scenario that makes those new ideas worth knowing. (source)

Competency-based learning

Competency-based learning enables students to move ahead in the curriculum based not on the number of hours they spend in the classroom but, primarily, on their ability to demonstrate that they have reached key milestones along the path to mastery of core competencies and bodies of knowledge. (source)
There are two big ideas behind the shift to competence in formal education. First, students should show what they know. It’s not about turning work in, earning points, or showing up to class, they should demonstrate in several ways that they have mastered important knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Assessments in a competency-based system inform student learning as well as teacher judgments about concept mastery. Second, students should progress when ready–after they’ve demonstrated mastery of important concepts that build a platform for future learning. (source)
For a couple hundred years, we’ve been grouping children by birthdate and providing similar learning experiences to all of them. In the last 20 years, along with the addition of information technology, there have been efforts around the edges to modify this batch processing system with a bunch of tacked on services for younger kids and a patchwork quilt of courses for older kids.
But finally, around the edges, we’re beginning to see education programs breaking free of lockstep progress–places where students can move on when ready and get more time and support when needed. (source)          ‌


As more schools adopt learning goals beyond reading, writing and math, certain questions are vexing school leaders worldwide: How can we measure growth in creative thinking? How can we spot a “self-aware” team member? How can we measure whether our graduating high school seniors have the habits necessary to succeed at college and throughout adult life? (source)
An example of cumulative validity is 500 data points from six sources collected over eight months about a middle-grade student’s progress on ratios and proportions. With that much information, you have a pretty good idea of what they know and you don’t need to start from scratch with 50 new questions—but that’s what exactly what standardized tests do. (source)
Artificial intelligence is widely used to review and rate hiring profiles. Similarly, portfolios of student work can automatically be scored on many dimensions. (source)
I asked one of the student leaders how they help incoming high school juniors internalize high expectations. He said very crisply, “It’s three factors, feedback from peer leaders, coaches, and, most importantly, from clients.” (source)
Now that colleges can quickly and accurately review 100 writing samples, 50 science lab reports, and 50 computations, a college entrance exam will soon be of little value to students or colleges. (source)
The big future opportunity is a marketplace where universities can search for applicants by category and credential and invite them to apply (or even offer acceptance based on verified credentials). (source)
Student transcripts will be on blockchain, a credible, always up to date distributed ledger. You won’t have to call a student’s prior school to get a record of their learning. The benefits of blockchain will eventually be extended to comprehensive learner profiles. (source)
In 2019, information is increasingly complicated to manage now that a growing number of students are taking classes at multiple high schools, earning college credits, and collecting industry credentials and work readiness badges from a variety of sources. (source)
In dynamic job categories including information technology (as Bock notes), hiring is increasingly based on demonstrated skills–a portfolio of referenced work– rather than transcripts and grades. Learning in these rapidly evolving fields is often online or blended, modular, and delivered in quick sprints in new formats like coding bootcamps or nanodegrees. (source)

2 podcast interview of Tom worth listening to

3 great videos of Tom speaking

Here's a compact 2-minute overview of how Tom thinks a school should be like, using Cajon Valley Union School District as an example.

This is a short, 10-minute interview where Tom answers some important questions.

Tom's 2011 TEDx talk, giving a comprehensive overview of his views on education which seem to age rather well.

I will continue updating this post as I come across more of Tom's work that I like. Stay tuned...