April 1, 2014

A review of the 2013 Digital Learning Now Report Card: Part 1, Summary Findings

Digital Learning Now (DLN) recently released its 2013 report card. The DLN report is among the most closely-watched and influential reports in online and blended learning policy, and as such we have read it closely. Following is our review, and points of agreement/disagreement on the text of the report. (We review some of the state grades in a subsequent blog post.)

The Executive Summary makes a point that we don’t see often enough—that the keys to online and blended learning are not the technology issues:

“[W]hat is of paramount importance in digital learning policy is not technological issues but rather ensuring that the technology is used to accelerate important education reforms, better equip teachers with the tools and support they need to succeed, and guaranteeing that students are receiving the engaging, high-quality education they need and deserve in order to be ready for college and careers.”

Conversely, the introduction starts with a vignette that is concerning:

For the student in 2014, learning begins before the first bell and ends long after they walk out of the schoolhouse …Whether editing wikis, turning in homework for a MOOC, or learning Arabic by chatting with their language partner from Marrakesh, students know that what happens in the four walls of their classroom is only one part of their  academic life.

Although the broad point of these paragraphs is accurate, the use of the MOOC (massive open online course) example undermines it. Millions of K-12 students are taking one or more online courses. Almost none of them are taking MOOCs for credit. Although this illustration could be seen as a minor point, it adds to the general view that MOOCs are becoming prevalent in K-12 learning. They are not, as of spring 2014.

The description of course choice programs is very good, including this quote from Michigan Virtual University’s Jamey Fitzpatrick:

“We can’t just turn the policy faucet and expect students to take online courses…We need to help parents and students with this new process, dispel myths, and give them real information.”

The explanation of the events in Louisiana is also excellent, although it seems perhaps a bit optimistic about how the funding situation will play out. As we have discussed here and here, reaching students at large scale with online courses requires either the funding mechanism that was deemed unconstitutional, or a larger state investment than Louisiana has made thus far.

The concept of student “data backpacks” is one that Keeping Pace has not tracked closely, but we are glad to see it addressed by DLN. This is an area in which a focus by DLN on innovative policies could spur states into action and help solve a serious data gap for online schools and course providers, as well as for students and families.

We are also glad to see the focus on competency-based learning policies, with the important caveat that with only a few exceptions (e.g. New Hampshire), most states are putting into place studies, task forces, and similar—which may or may not be a stepping stone to real policy changes.

Finally, we always appreciate efforts by education policy analysts and advocates to point out ways in which other fields hold illustrative examples:

“From cities such as Washington, D.C. trying to ban services like Uber to state legislators voting to ban next generation vehicles like Tesla, new innovations are confronting barriers created by policy and regulation.”

We appreciate that point, and agree with much of the summary information in the DLN report. In our next post we will look at some of the state grades and how they compare to the Keeping Pace research.


One Response to A review of the 2013 Digital Learning Now Report Card: Part 1, Summary Findings

  1. Pingback: A review of the 2013 Digital Learning Now Report Card: Part 2, State-by-State Findings « Uncategorized « Keeping Pace

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