Utah’s at the top in digital learning – let’s keep it there

studenttabletAs noted by the Utah Taxpayers Association and The Senate Site, Utah recently received an “A” on the 2012 Digital Learning Report Card from Digital Learning Now! As the only state in the country to do so, Utah is setting an example to the nation in how to do education right in the digital age. In this area of education policy, Utah policymakers should be commended for their forward-looking vision of what public education in Utah should be for children: personalized, flexible, cost-effective, and child centered.

The report card also highlights two ways in which Utah can remain an example to the nation, by enhancing its already strong digital learning policies.

First, Utah ought to require that Utah students take at least one online course in order to earn a high school diploma. Currently, over Utah’s colleges and universities offer 1,500 courses online, with 49 degree programs that can be completely entirely online. In other words, digital learning is an educational path that has already arrived in Utah, and is only going to expand in the future. Children in Utah public schools ought to at least get a taste of what digital learning is like and what it requires while in high school, so they can make an informed decision about whether it is a better path for them than traditional schooling.

Especially for children in difficult situations, such as those who must work full-time to support families straight out of high school, digital learning can empower them to improve their lives in ways that simply would not be possible otherwise. For those who care about children first when it comes to public education, introducing digital learning requirements in high school is simply the right thing to do.

Second, Utah ought to establish a pilot program for introducing “blended learning” into traditional public schools, like SB 79 would have done. Digital learning holds great potential to improve public education across the board. This does not require a full-on shift to full-time online schooling. “Blended learning” – where components of digital learning are paired up with a traditional, face-to-face schooling component – can be used to complement the strengths of face-to-face instruction in traditional, brick-and-mortar public schools. Of course, adopting “blended learning” into traditional public schools ought to be done thoughtfully and carefully, which is what makes the pilot program approach appropriate. Establishing such a program is a reasonable next step in expanding digital learning in Utah for the sake of children’s education, despite misguided fears from the education establishment about such a program.

There are other areas highlighted in the report card that Utah can improve upon as well, but these two represent the big “next steps” on the path of expanding digital learning for the sake of children in Utah. Education policymakers and leaders in Utah ought to push for these policies and continue to make Utah an example of doing digital learning in public education right.

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