Last week we took a pretty depressing look at what’s wrong with public education and why. But I promised then it wasn’t all bad news, and I’m sticking to my word. Digital learning has the potential to reverse the backward trend of education. Let’s look at how:
1. STUDENT-CENTERED: In a world where public education typically revolves around what’s best for adults, online learning puts the focus back where it belongs: on kids. Whether in a fully online program (where the student does all his/her work from a remote location via the internet and under the supervision of an online teacher) or in a blended school, digital learning is all about the student’s individual needs. Technology can diagnose each student’s learning level and style and provide teachers with daily data to make sure students are progressing in their learning—not getting stuck or falling behind. That same technology allows students to accelerate or take their time, rather than having to wait for the rest of the class or struggle to keep up. As a result, teachers can take a much more one-on-one approach to instruction, and individual student needs get met.
2. 21st CENTURY-FOCUSED: The world is digital—from industry and design, to business, art, medicine, entertainment, academia, and more. By gaining skills in technology from a young age—and learning to steward it responsibly and in its proper place—digital learning prepares students to join the 21st century workforce and academic world.
3. COMPETITIVE: In Washington, families can choose from 17 approved online schools, and the number continues to grow. Having options allows families to find the program that’s the best fit for their child. It also forces the programs themselves to continually improve in order to compete for students.
4. ACCOUNTABLE: Washington’s online public schools are held to a higher level of accountability than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. For example, by law every student enrolled in an online public school has a written student learning plan that outlines what success will look like for him or her. If they don’t make adequate progress over a specified period of time, the online school won’t receive state funding for that student. As a result, online programs go to great lengths to ensure students succeed. If online learning doesn’t appear to be a good fit for a particular student, the school will assist them in transferring to another school. Furthermore, the competition between online schools for student enrollments also holds them to a higher standard. When a school is guaranteed students—regardless of their track record for providing a good education—they have no incentive to excel or even to improve. Competition reinforces that schools are accountable to students and parents.
5. UNIVERSAL ACCESS: Like the internet itself, online learning isn’t bound by location, socio-economic status, learning level, etc. As long as the internet is available, with online learning any student anywhere can access a world-class education. This makes online learning the great equalizer, the most public of public schools. No longer are rural students at a disadvantage when it comes to course offerings. The small school can now manage to offer multiple foreign languages. The inner-city student can study agriculture. The list goes on.
Education might be in a bad way (and it is), but digital learning is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. More to come on how the digital revolution is changing education.
To learn more about digital learning, visit our newly updated publication Online Learning 101: A Guide to Virtual Public Education in Washington.