Will the iPad Save Schools? – The 4 Pillars of The Schools We Need

Student using an iPad

I’ve been interviewed a couple times over the last few weeks, mostly about our iPad research results.

One journalist asked me if I now thought that the iPad would be the secret to helping more students succeed in school.

I don’t think it is any secret that I am a big iPad fan, both personally and professionally. But I don’t think any piece of technology, by itself, will be responsible for creating the kinds of schools we need, if we are really going to develop the talent of every child. Technology can and should be a critical piece of that, and the iPad is a wonderful piece of technology for learning. But my experience working with schools that are striving to be successful with all students is that there are several key components to consider.

I told the journalist that I thought there were four pillars to the formula for successful schools.

Pillar 1: Customized Learning
Customized learning are the structures and practices that are built around two principles: people learn in different ways and in different timeframes. It might be called individualized/personalized learning, standards-based learning, or performance-based learning, and includes approaches such as RISC or Mass Customized Learning.

Pillar 2: Motivation
Motivation could be thought of as the conditions educators put into place that make it easier for learns to be self-motivated. These include strategies such as creating real world connections to the learning, providing students with voice and choice, insuring that our schools and classrooms are inviting places for students, emphasizing activities that focus on upper level Blooms and involve learning by doing.

Pillar 3: Technology for Learning
Computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones are the world’s modern tools for work, but they also have the potentinal to be our modern learning tools. But technology has to be looked at, not through the lens of the stuff, but rather through the lens of leveraging the stuff for learning. We need to look at how we use technology for various kinds of learning, as well as our leadership and policies around technology, and how we manage it.

Pillar 4: Leadership for School Change
Large-scale school change has a lot of moving parts that school leaders need to pay attention to and nurture if they wish the transition to be successful. How do we keep “the main thing the main thing”? What are the critical components and what are the supporting components that are still necessary to pay attention to? This is what is at the core of leadership for school change.


You won’t spend too much time thinking about each individual pillar before you realize that they overlap enormously and you can’t really think about one without thinking about aspects of the others. And you’ll realize that some pillars share components (or very similar components). In order to be successful, however, schools need to work on attending to all of four pillars simultaneously, so the fact that there is overlap is not a problem.

What I Did About It

That journalist interview and that question provided me with an aha! moment. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve been working on motivation, leadership, technology and other issues lated to student learning for a long time. But it was that conversation that helped me pull together and synthesize things that had been running around the back of my head.

So I just made a bunch of changes to both my website and my blog leveraging this new aha.

I spent the weekend rebuilding the McMEL (Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning) website so that it was organized around these four pillars. There is also a Projects & Programs menu with links to various exemplars of the kinds of educational programs we need and projects that are a direct result of the kinds of thinking that went into McMEL.

I also went through this blog, reorganizing the categories. There are now categories, not just for each of these four pillars but for each major component of each pillar. I also went through all the old posts and made sure that they were linked to the appropriate categories.

And I have made sure that each page on the McMEL site has links to the appropriate blog posts (at least by category) so that the blog can help populate the information at McMEL.

This might be a rather complicated way of simply saying that I want to help insure that educators have access to good information on these topics both from the McMEL site and the Multiple Pathways blog, and to make it easier as they are looking for guidance on their own initiatives.

iPad may be one of my favorite tools in the Technology for Learning category, but I think it is only one component of the answer to the question, what will help schools be more successful with students. For me, the answer is Meaningful Engaged Learning, including not only Technology for Learning, but Customized Learning, Motivation, and Leadership.