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Report: Digital learning shifts from states to districts

Several factors lead schools to more easily adopt blended learning models
Schools provide blended learning opportunities in different ways. State-run virtual schools generally offer only online instruction.
Schools provide blended learning opportunities in different ways. State-run virtual schools generally offer only online instruction.

Online learning activity in public districts has overtaken state-level virtual schools and charters, according to the 12th annual “Keeping Pace with K12 Digital Learning” report, released in December.

With more affordable online options, growing teacher and CIO expertise, and improved digital curriculum products, schools can more easily adopt blended learning models, the report states. Most districts nationwide use some form of digital learning, ranging from full-time online programs to software used in core classes.

“As the center of digital learning activity shifts to individual schools and districts, there is more of an on-site component, interacting with students face-to-face,” says John Watson, co-author of the report and founder of the Evergreen Education Group, a research and consulting company.

Schools provide blended learning opportunities in different ways, whether through traditional classes, independent study courses or alternative education programs. State-run virtual schools generally offer only online instruction, he adds.

Online learning gives students more flexibility in scheduling classes and offers more credit recovery options. Also, nearly half of students in grades 9 through 12 pursue online learning to take courses not offered at their school, while 43 percent choose online courses to work at their own pace, the report states.

By the numbers

2014-15

  • 2,254,000: Total students taking online courses
  • 462,025: Students taking online courses at state virtual schools
  • 275,000: Total full-time virtual charter students

Rise of the CIO

District CIOs and technology staff members can expect more responsibility ensuring broadband connections are strong, and devices and software are functioning properly, Watson says.

“Online courses and assessments are becoming increasingly mission-critical for schools and districts,” Watson says.

For example, many states switched from paper to online standardized testing in recent years, bringing internet connection strength to the forefront, he adds.

The most successful school-based digital programs foster strong relationships between technology and academic staff, Watson says.

Administrators and CIOs should determine what problems need solving in their school, and what devices or software can be used to do so. Staff should also develop measurable goals that determine success, Watson adds.