As Digital Learning Opportunities Expand, Program Quality Should Follow, Too

Digital learning. It’s a big educational wave of the future… and of the present. The use of online technology in formal learning can take on so many forms that it’s difficult to imagine all the possibilities of what it could look like. As digital learning opportunities began to expand, we want to keep the focus on ensuring students and parents have access to a great variety of choices. But what about quality? It seems to be the education policy issue du jour.

The New York Times’ Trip Gabriel shines light on the debate, but Flypaper’s Peter Meyer says the article “gets lost in the weeds” and should pay more attention to curriculum. New forms of delivering instruction and increasing learning shouldn’t lose focus on the content at hand. That’s where I stand with Harvard’s Paul Peterson, for example:

For some (put me on this right-hand side of the canyon), digital learning provides advanced students with the opportunity to learn challenging materials at an early age, and students with limited backgrounds an opportunity to learn at the pace appropriate to their skill level, and all students a chance to learn at any time, any place, take any path, at any pace, as the motto of Florida Virtual School puts it. That’s also the vision of “School of One,” about to go national after a trial run in a few schools in New York City and of Khan Academy, the open source math curriculum getting a trial in Los Altos, California.

You’ve seen me mention some of these before. Add the proven successful models of Rocketship Education and Carpe Diem Academy to the list, and I think we’re very much on track to see the excellent potential for online and blended learning. That’s something Florida is pursuing right now. RedefinED’s Amy Graham has brought my attention to SB 1620, which would increase the number of Sunshine State virtual learning opportunities and expand some access to younger students as well.

Meanwhile, here in Colorado, similar action is happening at the local level. The state’s largest school district, Jefferson County, is You can listen to a new Education Policy Center iVoices podcast with the district’s director of student online learning to get a more in-depth understanding of what’s going on there. Choices in Jeffco and elsewhere are expanding. Quality in many cases remains an unknown. But the more offerings are driven by parental demand and the state focuses on accountability for outputs rather than inputs, the sky should be the limit.