The objective of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program is to help primary and secondary schools dramatically enhance teacher skills and transform educational models around 21st century best practices that use technology as a tool for demonstrably and measurably improving pedagogy and learning outcomes.
My December 6, 2009 blog on the evolving focus of Microsoft Learning examined the group’s evolving mission and its growing partnerships with colleges and universities to teach not only budding IT professionals, but also students in other disciplines (especially business) the value that IT can provide in their work.
Microsoft’s work with schools, however, goes far beyond teaching college students to use Microsoft tools in their professions. The company’s Partners in Learning program, for example, works with primary and secondary schools, helping them enhance teacher skills and transform educational models around 21st century best practices that use technology as a tool for demonstrably and measurably improving pedagogy and learning outcomes.
Partners in Learning History
Launched in 2003 with a $250 million grant, Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program’s goals were to provide schools with access to technology and help them integrate this technology into their curricula.
While the initial program produced substantive results, many schools continue to use technology in separate IT labs or to automated traditional “sage on the stage” teaching methods, such as by using PowerPoint as an alternative to whiteboards. Relatively few used this technology to fundamentally transform pedagogy into an independent, self-guided, project-based learning model in which teachers would support student-initiated learning by serving as “guides on the side”. Despite the grants and the guidance, most teachers lacked technology skills and the understanding of how to most effectively use technology in teaching, classrooms remained too overcrowded for personal attention, and governments could not provide the resources required to address these limitations.
Microsoft, however, was not discouraged. It continually adapted and then dramatically extended the program by committing an additional $235 million in 2008. The current program is built around a leveragable, holistic, best practices-based approach to transforming educational models around 21st century methods and to measuring results with objective metrics.
Microsoft is certainly making progress. As of the end of 2009, the program had produced:
- More than 7.1 million trained teachers and school officials;
- 12 “mentor schools”, which have successfully changed teaching and learning methods in accordance with Microsoft’s Innovative Schools Program methodology, and are now authorized to help other (Pathfinder) schools transform their own programs;
- A pipeline of 30 “pathfinder schools”, which have already been qualified to go through the Microsoft program. These schools, although they may not yet employ advanced technology, have strong curricula, teachers and results, and leaders with a desire to go through the type of transformation required by the Innovative Schools Program. They have also completed a preparatory program including semi-annual in-person professional development sessions and monthly “virtual universities”. (Once they “graduate”, these schools qualify to become the next cohort of mentor schools.
This, however, is just the beginning. By the end of 2013, the company plans to have trained 10 million teachers across 112 countries, to have qualified 45 Mentor and 300 Pathfinder schools and to have thousands of schools in the Innovative Schools’ breadth program, though which any school can gain access to Partners in Learning tools even if they don’t complete in the full program.
How does Microsoft plan to achieve such ambitious goals? My next blog, Building a “Partners in Learning” Value Chain, will provide an overview of some of the key elements of Microsoft’s plan for driving this phenomenal growth while simultaneously ensuring—and objectively measuring—the program’s success.