innovation in education concept illustration

How online learning helps schools stand out in the competitive landscape of school choice

The competitive nature of school choice makes many educators uneasy.

Administrators are under pressure to market their school to families both within and outside of their geographic boundaries in an attempt to attract more students. For many, this is uncomfortable because it blurs the lines between education and business.

This discomfort is understandable, creating moral tension and a fine line on which to walk. To best leverage these tensions, your goal should be to have your cake and eat it, too: To innovate your curriculum by offering students what they need in a manner that engages their learning preferences.

If you’re looking to find ways to innovate your curriculum — and, yes, to compete with other schools in our current era of school choice — then providing your students with online learning options is one way you can stand out in the educational marketplace.

Why will this help your school stand out? Because you’ll be providing your students with more course options, more flexibility in how and when they learn, and more opportunities to gain 21st-century learning skills.

The way humans learn is changing

Part of the reason it’s so imperative that we offer students online learning options is because the way humans learn is changing, and the internet is one of the major factors expediting this change.

Consider this:

The last time you or a loved one needed to figure out how to do something, what did you do?

Did you take a full-fledged course on the topic? Or did you go to Google and type in, “How to X”?

People are naturally looking online for tutorials on how to do things. When we need to learn a skill, we typically turn to Google, YouTube, or Wikipedia before turning to a physical book or classroom.  As adult learners, at least, the rest typically comes later. After we have solidified a basic understanding of the topics in which we’re most interested, we then branch out into more rigorous, in-depth methods of study.

The moral of the story is:

We have learning devices at our fingertips or in our pockets at all times with access to a near-infinite store of information. The majority of us use these tools as learning devices, and so do our students.

This point is not made to suggest that online learning ought to replace the traditional classroom. On the contrary, we believe that online learning is best used as a supplemental resource to face-to-face learning.

Similarly, when it comes to using devices in the brick-and-mortar classroom, teachers trump tools. In order to improve student outcomes, technology must be leveraged strategically by teachers to make learning both more efficient and more effective.

These two ways of learning are not mutually exclusive. At their best, they work together in a symbiotic relationship to foster the growth of well-rounded students.

Society has changed. Education is also changing, but we need to reimagine what we want for our children. We want them to be able to utilize the power of the internet to find and synthesize information that is useful to them.

We want them to gain digital literacy skills, not simply so they can become effective classroom learners, but so they can become effective lifelong learners.

Why are students and parents choosing online learning?

In January 2017, The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning released a report on why students choose online and blended learning. This report identified three broad reasons students pursue online and blended learning:

  • Academics
  • Social-emotional health and safety, and
  • Interests and life circumstances

Increasingly, students, parents, and school counselors are opting for online learning as a means to:

  • Expand the range of courses available to students beyond what a single school can offer
  • Allow flexibility to students facing scheduling conflicts
  • Afford opportunities for elite athletes and performers, migrant youth, pregnant, at-risk, or incarcerated students, and students who are homebound due to illness or injury, to continue their studies outside the traditional classroom
  • Provide credit recovery programs for students that have failed courses and/or dropped out of school, allowing them to get back on track to graduate
  • Help students who are currently performing below grade-level to begin catching-up through blended learning
  • Personalize instruction for the needs of individual students;
  • Provide on-demand online tutoring, and
  • Increase the teaching of technology skills by embedding technology literacy in academic content.

Students may be interested in enrolling in online courses that their schools cannot or do not offer.  Advanced Placement (AP) courses, for example, are a common request made of online learning providers because schools often do not have qualified teachers in the subject areas or enough students to provide the courses face-to-face.

Sometimes, students turn to online courses to overcome a scheduling conflict, and some use online courses for elective credit and personal enrichment — including taking courses over the summer. Many schools and students also use online courses as a credit recovery option for students who have failed their face-to-face courses.

In the competitive landscape of school choice, online learning can provide your school with an edge by offering students a broader curriculum, more flexible scheduling options, and access to the 21st-century learning skills they need to thrive in college and their future workplaces.

You can learn more about why students choose online learning and how you can implement a successful online program at your school in our new Administrator Guide to Online Learning

Administrator Guide to Online Learning now available!

If you’re a school administrator who has implemented — or is interested in implementing — an online program at your school district, check out our new Administrator Guide to Online Learning.

Created in partnership with MEMSPA, MASA, MASSP, and MAISA, our Administrator Guide to Online Learning is intended to inform building administrators about best practices for online learning and, ultimately, to maximize student learning outcomes in the online environment.

In this guide, we explore answers to the following questions:
  • What is online learning?
  • What are the differences/similarities between online and face-to-face learning?
  • Why are students choosing online learning?
  • What is the administrator’s role in online learning?
  • What are some common misconceptions about online learning?
  • How does one establish and maintain a successful online learning program?

Explore the Guide

LIMITED OPPORTUNITY — Sign up for a free audit of your school’s online learning program by our experts.

If you’re serious about improving your school’s online learning program, consider signing up for a free audit of your current online program conducted by experts at the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute. These audits are available at no cost to Michigan schools thanks to funding allocated to improve our state’s virtual learning pass rates.

We have a limited capacity to conduct these audits, so please reach out soon if you are interested.

Learn More About Our Review Process

You might also be interested in

Keep up with the latest Michigan Virtual has to offer