Jobs for the Future joined several states, districts, teachers and students on February 1 in celebrating Digital Learning Day, hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education. This day is a direct result of the explosion of interest in the use of technology for education. In 2010, four million students were educated using some kind of educational technology—and that number is growing. Districts, charter management systems, for-profits, and states are investing in digital tools, services, and platforms that are broadening the opportunities for learning. It is clear that technology is increasingly seen as providing opportunities for personalization, flexibility, and differentiation, and the development of 21st-century skills.
It is less clear how technology can best be utilized in schools serving students who have struggled in school, fallen off track to graduation, or dropped out altogether. On the one hand, online credit recovery has long been a staple in alternative education. And all too often, it is the equivalent of an electronic workbook in a sterile computer lab with few opportunities for the development of the higher-order, critical thinking skills necessary for postsecondary success. On the other hand, blended learning holds promise as a strategy to help students develop exactly those skills. A blended learning classroom can incorporate the best elements of face-to-face classrooms and virtual learning environments for this population—accelerating learning gains, building next-generation skills, and ensuring college readiness.
JFF is currently exploring how schools can implement blended learning in a way that delivers a rigorous, college-ready academic experience with proper social supports for their students, as well as an expectation for postsecondary completion. The Back on Track Through College three-phase model provides a strong foundation from which to understand how technology can best be integrated, and empower students as independent learners.
We hope that Digital Learning Day will be an annual event, continuing its focus on how technology can better the lives of all students.