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Marten Roorda Talks “Transformation” on Smart Sparrow’s Learning Nerds Podcast

Recently, ACT CEO Marten Roorda sat down with Smart Sparrow’s VP of Learning Architecture, Amanda Newlin, to talk about ACT’s transformation.

In February 2018, ACT made a significant strategic investment in Smart Sparrow to build on our transformation to become a learning, measurement and navigation organization. Our investment reflects an ongoing commitment to developing adaptive learning technology to more effectively serve individuals around the world.

Together, ACT and Smart Sparrow are accelerating work in adaptive learning and expanding upon our shared mission to help individuals succeed.

Listen to the podcast to learn what we’re doing to shape the industry and transform learning, measurement and navigation as we know it.

Short on time? Take a look at these highlights from the conversation:

How the education ecosystem is changing

Marten: “The linear ecosystem has changed into a nonlinear system – that’s what we’re seeing right now. You see open educational resources and you see adaptive learning emerging and those are signs of a new ecosystem. It’s still small but it’s growing, and at some point there will be a tipping point where schools will decide to spend their budget only on the new ecosystem and get rid of the old. It’s still a few years away, but the change is coming and the question is not ‘If?’ but ‘When?’”

The importance of innovation to decrease equity gaps

Marten: “So, the kind of innovation I talked about is for a reason. You should only do that, or you’re only able to do that, if it also means an improvement – so better outcomes. Better outcomes are really needed because there’s a big opportunity gap, especially in U.S. education. There’s a lot of underserved students. So, the final goal – or the “Ultimate Dream” – of education technology is to create more opportunity for everyone, so that at some point hopefully everyone can live up to their potential and become successful in college and career and life. That’s what we all do it for. It wouldn’t make sense to only create a better experience; it’s not enough. You should also look at the efficacy and see what better outcomes you can create and how to use innovation to level the playing field for everyone.”

Why we must look beyond academic skills

Marten: “I think we should measure anything that is a success factor for students. Anyone would admit that academic skills are not the only success factors. The non-academic ones — like social emotional learning and others — are at least equally important to become successful. We cannot just close our eyes and say ‘Well, we’ll just stick to our math, science, and ELA measurement.’ So, I said that we have to develop measurement tools in the other areas too. Fortunately, ACT has been developing the holistic framework, which covers not only the academic skills but also cross-cutting capabilities and social emotional learning skills and also navigational skills. So there was there was a foundation already.”

On the Horizon

Be sure to subscribe to future learning nerds podcasts and listen to other episodes. Check back on their homepage for more exciting perspectives on ACT’s transformation in the coming months.

About Smart Sparrow

Smart Sparrow is an award-winning learn-tech company inspiring the next wave in digital learning and assessment. Smart Sparrow is ACT’s strategic partner, accelerating ACT’s transformation into a Learning, Measurement, and Navigation company.

Smart Sparrow’s brand new platform — aero, Powered by ACT — is a first-of-its-kind learning design platform, built from the ground up to meet the needs of the future-oriented education ecosystem.

Enabling unprecedented productivity and creativity in designing next-generation digital learning and assessment products, and trusted by leading education brands globally, Smart Sparrow is a transformative force in the education ecosystem, delivering on the vision of richer, personalized lifelong learning. Learn more at

About The Learning Nerds Podcast

The Learning Nerds Podcast is an edtech learncast for people who seek to push the boundaries of education, and wish to explore the intersection of design, learning, and technology. Visit to learn more and tune in.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.