Research on Michigan’s K-12 Online Learning Demographics, Effectiveness, Evaluation, Quality, & Policy

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In 2020, we published a 10 report series summarizing the findings of all of the research we’ve conducted to date. Nearly 100 resources were included in this review, and collectively they provide valuable insights for researchers and practitioners on many aspects of online teaching and learning, such as:

This blog series is meant to accompany these reports and further explore the practical implications of those years of research. 

Since its establishment, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute has been a national leader in analyzing and reporting K-12 online learning demographics and effectiveness across Michigan. During this same time, the Institute partnered with national experts on K-12 online learning evaluation and policy

Over the last several years, our research team has explored issues related to demographics, effectiveness, evaluation, and policy such as:

These matters as well as resulting implications and best practices are further explored below. For more information on any of the topics below, please see the full research reports K-12 Online Learning Demographics & Effectiveness, and Evaluation, Quality, & Policy.  

Demographics of Michigan K-12 Online Learners

Overall, Michigan tends to match national K-12 online enrollment trends such as higher enrollments from female students and white students. However, Michigan is somewhat unique in that virtual schools in the state tend to serve more low-income students and students with disabilities. Between 2010-11 and 2018-19, the percentage of Michigan K-12 online students in poverty grew by about 50%. 

K-12 online enrollments in general grew significantly as well from 2010-11 to 2018-19, with the most common enrollment coming from supplemental enrollments at the high school level in core subject areas. 

Michigan K-12 Online Learning Effectiveness

The overall pass rate for K-12 online courses fell over 10%, from a high of 66% in 2010-11 to 55% in 2018-19. Over this same time period, it has become clear that students in online courses do better when they only take one or two online courses. Online students taking only a few virtual courses had pass rates around 76% compared to only 51% for students taking five or more online courses. 

While enrollments from students in poverty are growing, these students are generally less successful in their online courses. Online students in poverty have a pass rate of 48% compared to 69% for learners not in poverty. More needs to be done to support this growing population of online learners. 

K-12 online students who do well in their online courses were more active overall and seemed to leverage help resources more effectively than less successful students. This finding speaks to the importance of knowing how to learn effectively in an online learning environment and possessing or developing self-regulatory skills. Online programs and course providers should provide opportunities to scaffold such skills if they are not yet developed. 

K-12 Online Evaluation and Policy

There appears to be an appetite in the general public for high-quality online learning options. Michigan adults perceive online learning as important for K-12 students in order to prepare them for college and the workforce. While there are many online learning options available, schools report finding it difficult to ensure the courses are in fact high quality. 

Part of the effort to ensure high-quality online learning options has been to train course developers by third party national online learning expert organizations such as Quality Matters. Additionally, there has been a push to have online courses reviewed by third party experts to ensure they are of high quality. 

Further, there is widespread agreement among educational stakeholders that there needs to be accountability for online learning. Based on the limited research conducted by Michigan Virtual, there did not seem to be a national, or even widely used model for approval and evaluation of K-12 online programs and blended programs. 

Given the concerns from educational stakeholders and low performance associated with some online learning programs, perhaps there needs to be more rigorous review and regular evaluation of all online programs.

Online learning in Michigan and nationwide has grown significantly in the last decade, as the demand for online programs and courses increases so does the need for evaluation, at all levels, accountability for providers, and data tracking who is benefiting from this growth and who is being left behind. 

Michigan K-12 Online Learning Demographics, Effectiveness, Evaluation, Quality, & Policy References

Archambault, L., Kennedy, K., Freidhoff, J. R., Bruno, J., DeBruler, K., & Stimson, R. (2015). Accountability in K-12 online learning course access programs: Stakeholder recommendations for policy and practice. Michigan Virtual University. 

Barbour, M. K., Clark, T., DeBruler, K., & Bruno, J. A. (2014). Evaluation and approval constructs for online and blended courses and providers. Michigan Virtual University. 

Barbour, M. K., Miron, G., & Huerta, L. (2017). Virtual schools in the U.S.: Case studies of policy, performance, and research evidence. Michigan Virtual University.  

Clark, T. (2016). Quality assurance in K-12 online learning programs: Michigan case studies. Michigan Virtual University. 

DeBruler, K . & Bae, J . (2016). Educating students across locales: Understanding enrollment and performance across virtual schools. Michigan Virtual University.  

DeBruler, K. & Kwon, J. B. (2019, May 18). Educating AP Students Across Locales. Michigan Virtual University.  

Freidhoff, J. R. (2020). Michigan’s K-12 virtual learning effectiveness report 2018-19. Michigan Virtual University. 

Freidhoff, J. R., DeBruler, K., & Kennedy, K. (2014). Michigan’s K-12 virtual learning effectiveness report. Michigan Virtual University.  

Lowes. S. & Lin, P. (2017). Student pathways through online algebra 1 courses. Michigan Virtual University.  

Mann, B. (2018). Racial and economic diversity trends in VCSs: An analysis of national enrollment data, 2015-16. Michigan Virtual University.   

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute. (2015a, March 12). Comparing virtual schools in Michigan to national trends identified in NEPC’s recent national report. Michigan Virtual University. 

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute. (2017, April 25). Comparing Virtual Schools in Michigan to National Trends Identified in NEPC’s Annual National Report, 2017. Michigan Virtual University.  

Michigan Virtual University. (2013). Michigan association for secondary school principals online learning survey report. Michigan Virtual University.  

Public Sector Consultants (2017). Public awareness and views of K-12 online learning in Michigan 2017. Michigan Virtual University. 

Public Sector Consultants (2019). Public awareness and views of K-12 online learning in Michigan 2019. Michigan Virtual University.  

Research Round Up blog series

In our Research Round Up blog series, we explore the practical implications from years of digital learning research. Next month’s topic will be Online Learning in Higher Education. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

Picture of Kristen DeBruler

Kristen DeBruler

Dr. Kristen DeBruler received her doctorate in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University. She taught in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University for three years. Her work focuses on K-12 online learning policy in Michigan and nation wide as well as understanding online learning best practices.

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