What is Digital Learning?
Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student's learning experience. Much more than "online learning," digital learning encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practice, digital learning emphasizes high-quality instruction and provides access to challenging content, feedback through formative assessment, opportunities for learning anytime and anywhere, and individualized instruction to ensure all students reach their full potential to succeed in college and a career.
Characteristics of Digital Learning in Schools
- Led by teachers with significant support.
- Collaborative and aligned to a common vision.
- Flexible and high-quality resources.
- Data driven, transparent, and ongoing.
A personalized, learner-centered environment uses technology to collect and organize data to help establish learning goals and criteria for success; assess student progress constantly and informally; and provide students and teachers with a comprehensive system of academic and developmental supports. Policy and practice must offer access to technology tools and educational resources that empower and elevate school leaders and teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, creativity, and data analysis skills to meet the needs of individual students.
Blended learning environments in K-12 public schools provide support for teachers to help all students advance at their own pace based on competency and mastery. Digital learning opportunities can positively affect teaching practices by shifting the makeup of classes and objectives based on student needs. When employed as part of a comprehensive educational strategy, the effective use of technology provides tools, resources, data, and supportive systems that increase teaching opportunities and promote efficiency. Such environments enable anytime, anywhere learning based on competency and mastery with empowered caring adults who are guiding the way for each student to succeed.
Technology and digital learning can increase professional learning opportunities by expanding access to high-quality, ongoing, job-embedded resources to improve student success. Professional learning communities, peer-to-peer lesson sharing, and better use of data and formative assessment, combined with less emphasis on "sit and get" professional development sessions eliminate the confines of geography and time. These ever-increasing resources offer teachers vast new opportunities to collaborate, learn, share, and produce best practices with colleagues in school buildings across the country.
Administrators, teachers, students, and parents must all have a shared commitment to personalized and collaborative learning. Educators must be empowered by their leadership to use innovative approaches for learner-centered instruction. Permission to fail and regroup must be pervasive in this new learning environment. Technology encourages and supports this more agile approach to teaching by supporting a problem-solving culture with transparent student data that is used in a collegial, collaborative environment to improve student outcomes. Data should be used as a carrot and not as a stick.
Districts and states need to rethink how academic content is developed and obtained for their teachers and students. By designing a thorough review process for quality, states and districts should be able to employ a variety of resources aligned to rigorous standards that address differing learning styles, deepening levels of knowledge and support deep, project-based learning approaches.
Through a more flexible, consistent, and concentrated approach to academic content delivery, states could combine open educational resources (OER), state-created content, and curriculum with commercial offerings that more adequately address the ever-changing needs of a district. This kind of approach offers teachers more robust and adaptive tools to customize the instruction for groups of students or on a student-to-student basis to ensure relevance and deep understanding of complex issues and topics. Providing multiple sources of high-quality academic content offers students much greater opportunities to reflect on their own work, think critically, and engage frequently to enable deeper understanding of complex topics.
Good instruction can be driven by a well-designed formative assessment program with teachers using real-time response devices that capture when students (1) master concepts, (2) may benefit from more instruction, or (3) need remediation. This student data is then stored so that it may be analyzed to determine progress in multiple classrooms and subjects over time. A formative assessment program that uses technology offers teachers with more robust, timely data that will allow them to encourage students along pathways best suited for their learning objectives. Policy, practice, and attitudes within the school must support a collaborative, positive, and continuous improvement notion of school reform where each child progresses adequately toward the goal of being ready for college and a career.