What if Michigan Had eLearning Days?

Laptop and coffee on winter window
With eLearning, students can learn from home when extenuating circumstances (such as snow storms) prevent them from being able to attend their brick-and-mortar schools. Many states in the U.S. have eLearning policies, but Michigan's not one of them. Why is that and what would it look like if we did have eLearning days?

Despite having an online learning graduation requirement, as well as 21f legislation that requires schools to provide students up to two online courses per semester, Michigan is not one of the 14 U.S. states that have an eLearning day policy, in spite of having only six allotted snow days per year, and in some years like 2019, running well past that number due to dangerous or inclement weather. 

What are eLearning days?

eLearning days, also known as cyber days, online learning days, virtual days, or blizzard bag days, are a way for schools to continue to provide learning opportunities to students when complications such as weather, extended illnesses, or natural disasters arise. 

In addition, they can help schools avoid adding days to the end of the school year and provide an alternative learning option for students in extenuating circumstances.

However, while eLearning days can be a great solution to mitigate some of these issues, there are many accompanying challenges that schools and school districts need to consider in order to provide an effective learning opportunity for all students. 

Who’s using eLearning days?

There are currently about 14 states that have some sort of eLearning day policy (DLC, 2019). However, many differences exist among them in terms of how eLearning days are implemented and managed. 

For example, in South Carolina and Illinois, individual school districts are required to apply for an eLearning pilot program. 

In Pennsylvania, students and teachers are not required to have access to technology and an Internet connection as paper and pencil options are provided during these “flexible instruction days.” 

In addition, attendance verification, expectations, and requirements vary widely among the states that do have some sort of eLearning policy. 

In Illinois, teachers must be able to verify at least five clock hours of instruction or schoolwork on an eLearning day (DLC, 2019). In South Carolina, teachers must be able to verify 5.5 hours for elementary school students and six hours for secondary students. 

In addition to state-level policies on eLearning, a number of universities and K-12 districts or ISDs have experimented with eLearning days when confronted with severe weather or widespread illness such that an entire building or campus needs to shut down. 

eLearning days can be useful tools when physically attending school is unsafe or pragmatically impossible. However, when applied without proper planning and clear, consistent implementation, eLearning days are unlikely to extend instruction in any meaningful way. 

eLearning Days Only Work Well When Implemented Well

At the end of the day, simply having an eLearning day policy does not mean that schools will execute it well. If teachers and administrators are not well practiced then it is unlikely students will see any real success on eLearning days. Schools need to have proper training in place for their teachers so that they are able to facilitate learning effectively. 

For example:

  • Both students and parents need to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • Students will need to understand what is expected of them in terms of demonstrating their learning and documenting time spent in each course. 
  • Teachers need to know how to verify student attendance as well as how and when to make themselves available for student questions. 
  • Schools need to take students with special learning needs (504s, IEPs, ESL) into consideration and make sure that accommodations are put into place so that they can be successful, too. 
  • And most importantly, LEAs, PSAs, and ISDs need to understand that even the best-laid plans need to be adjusted and revised. 

All in all, for eLearning days to live up to their full potential, schools will need to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments from year to year to ensure that when eLearning opportunities are offered, they are an effective learning opportunity for all students, teachers, and parents.

Success in Online Learning blog series

In our Success in Online Learning blog series, we discuss all things K-12 online learning in Michigan and across the nation. Our hope with this series is to provide a primer on K-12 online learning, cover established and emerging topics, and provide relevant research and resources. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

About the authors

Christa Green

Christa received her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Kent State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She taught middle school language arts and social studies for seven years before coming to work for Michigan Virtual in 2018. As a Research Specialist with the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, Christa enjoys using her passion for education, curriculum, research, and writing to share and shape best practices in online and blended learning with other educators not only in Michigan, but nationwide. 

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.

Christopher Harrington

Dr. Christopher Harrington has served public education as a teacher, an administrator, a researcher, and a consultant for more than 25 years and has experience assisting dozens of school districts across the nation in the design and implementation of blended, online, and personalized learning programs. He has worked on local, regional, and national committees with iNACOL and various other education-based organizations aimed at transforming education through the use of technology.

Picture of Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute

The Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) is a non-biased organization that exists to expand Michigan’s ability to support new learning models, engage in active research to inform new policies in online and blended learning, and strengthen the state’s infrastructures for sharing best practices. MVLRI works with all online learning environments to develop the best practices for the industry as a whole.

The Digital Backpack

Get our latest articles sent straight to your inbox every week!