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Digital Learning Day: Ways to Support Successful Online Learning

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On Digital Learning Day, what can be done to improve online instruction? In this article, we share suggestions for researchers and practitioners from EDC's Erin Stafford and Jacqueline Zweig.
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Originally published by the Education Development Center on February 27, 2020.

February 27 is Digital Learning Day, set aside “to actively spread innovative practices and ensure that all youth have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.”1 For practitioners and researchers like us, this is a day we can all get behind.

Digital learning is happening in and around schools all the time. National estimates from 2015-16 indicated that 57.5% of public high schools offered courses entirely online.2 Yet rigorous research is limited for K–12 online learning, which means that determining effective approaches to delivering content and supporting students in an online context can be challenging.

Schools and districts are searching for evidence to guide them in deciding where to spend their online learning resources. And options abound—from course providers to learning management systems to ways to prepare and support online learners.

To help build a research evidence base, the Education Development Center has partnered with Michigan Virtual and Michigan Department of Education to examine whether an online orientation will help students successfully complete their online courses. We presented at the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) this week, which sparked a discussion about how best to prepare students for online learning.

Conversations among researcher and practitioner colleagues continued at DLAC, which highlighted the policy and practice questions that still need to be studied and the importance of trusted information.

Yet, answers to these questions can only become reality if researchers, state and local education agencies, and online learning providers work together to better understand students’ needs, to study interventions, and to make sense of data in the rapidly changing world of online learning.

  • Researchers need practitioners to ensure that questions are relevant, and that data are accessible, usable, and protected.
  • Practitioners need researchers to understand the data and options available through learning management systems, to work through the challenges of linking data sets, and to make sense of what is happening with students in their online courses.

As we celebrate Digital Learning Day 2020, we encourage researchers, practitioners, and online program developers to continue to improve online instruction, expand inclusive and equitable access to online courses, and support students to be successful online. We hope you will find a partner and join us!

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With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.