PORTLAND – As Maine schools face declining student enrollment, flat student achievement outcomes and declining revenue, the state should pursue bold reforms that incorporate digital learning into Maine students’ public education.
That’s according to a new report released today by the Maine Heritage Policy Center. The report, School’s for Maine’s Future: the Promise of Digital Learning, was authored by the Center’s education policy director Steve Bowen, a former public school teacher and two-term member of the Maine Legislature. The report explores the benefits of digital learning for Maine students, and the framework by which the state can implement digital learning in our schools to help overcome significant challenges.
“To ignore the potential digital learning has to improve how we deliver public education would be a disservice to our kids, and to the Maine industries relying on our public schools to prepare students for the demands of the workforce and the competitiveness of the global economy,” Bowen explained.
Digital, or online learning programs incorporate text, audio, video and other technologies to provide direct instruction to students. Some programs offer real time online instruction by teachers, while others afford students freedom to access course materials when it is convenient, with teachers providing support as needed by phone or e-mail. Additional software tracks student achievement to provide teachers with up-to-date student progress. A digital learning program can mean anything from a single online course to an entire online school.
In the 2009-2010 school year, more than 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in some form of digital learning. Researchers anticipate that half of all high school courses will be taken online in less than a decade.
Individualized learning and additional teacher support for students are among the benefits of digital learning explored in the report. Students can move through course work at their own pace, with time freed up for students to receive extra help if needed. The real-time data about student performance also allows teachers to identify areas in which students require additional support.
For a rural state like Maine, digital learning also allows students to access specialized courses such as foreign languages, advanced mathematics, or Advanced Placement courses for college credit—courses rural students might otherwise have no access to at all.
Such innovative education reforms are widely popular and have led to greater student achievement among those who have participated in digital learning. The report cites studies by the U.S. Department of Education and Learning Point Associates that found that student performance among participants exceeded the performance of students receiving face-to-face instruction. Another study by the Wisconsin Legislature found approval ratings for online learning among students, parents and teachers exceeded 90 percent—for all three groups.
“Digital learning has proven to be extremely effective and hugely popular among participants, and has helped provide a quality education to students who have been short-changed by traditional public education,” Bowen said. “Digital learning is the future of education. Advances in technology have streamlined government, increased private sector productivity, and reshaped global communications. Imagine what it can help accomplish for our kids in the classroom.”