Readers add to “indicators of high-quality digital learning” | John Watson | 3 Min Read

Last week’s blog post, The indicators of high quality digital learning, ended with an invitation to readers to weigh in on what they saw as indicators that the post hadn’t included. And weigh in they did, mostly regarding two main points. The first point was about teachers and instruction, and the second about mastery learning.
The original post put teachers and teaching first on the list of quality indicators:

  • “An active role for teachers, whether they are online, f2f in a hybrid school, or both. This is the easiest indicator conceptually, because in 20+ years of studying the US K-12 online learning field, we have found that literally every successful school or program places a premium on teachers. (This shouldn’t be a surprise because it applies to all physical schools as well.)
  • “A premium on teachers” manifests as strong hiring practices, professional development, and ongoing teacher support. Professional development is combined with ongoing support that is embedded and offered consistently throughout the year.”

The main point that readers wished to add was regarding the ways that teachers in online and hybrid modalities could “identify and provide intervention/remediation/enrichment to personalize instruction.” I agree, and would add that using student feedback and data to personalize instruction should be a main element of professional development and support from the school and district.

A second comment addressed this part of the original post:

“Established online and hybrid schools also have indicators of success based on outcomes. As digital learning programs often serve students who are highly mobile, and/or arrive at the school behind on credit accumulation, measures such as test scores on state assessments, and graduation rates, may or may not describe outcomes accurately.”

This reader, from a state virtual school, made the point that providers of supplemental online courses have relied on course completion rates as a main outcomes-based indicator, but he felt that course completion rates “aren’t good enough,” particularly given that it’s hard as a state virtual school to connect with student assessments or other data that would link course completion with some indication of learning beyond the course grade, such as state assessments. This is even more true for private online course providers who are almost entirely reliant on district satisfaction as their indicator of success.

What can a state virtual school do to address this issue? This particular organization is leaning into competency/mastery-based learning:Yet another reader, who has spent considerable time thinking about mastery-based learning, suggests that the key elements of mastery should be indicators of high quality online/hybrid learning. He defines the main steps as:

  1. Define what we want students to learn. This can be Common Core, state standards, etc. But we need to be clear what the list of learning objectives actually is, and we need to write it down.
  1.  Define what success means. For each learning objective, we need to be clear what it means for a student to successfully complete the learning process.
  1.  Implement some way to track and monitor student learning process. Somehow students and teachers need to be able to see where students are in their learning.
  1.  Use this data to drive the teaching and learning process. This information should be the starting point: what do we want the students to learn, where are they now, and what are we going to do next to help them learn?”

Mastery-based learning is a topic that may deserve its own post. We are hearing of renewed interest among some educators and organizations, but major barriers remain to widespread implementation.

We appreciate comments from readers — whether we ask for them in a blog post or not!

John Watson

As Evergreen’s founder and primary researcher, John Watson is responsible for conducting, writing, and presenting research as well as providing testimony on digital learning matters to state boards of education, legislatures, and charter school commissions. He has extensive knowledge and experience based on his two decades working in online learning and education technology. This background has afforded him a wide-reaching network across the spectrum of education professionals, policymakers, and subject matter experts as well as the ability to provide insightful, dimensional analysis and recommendations. After earning his MBA and a MS in natural resource policy at the University of Michigan, John went to work for one of the first Learning Management System companies, eCollege, in early 1998. He launched eCollege’s K-12 division, called eClassroom, and managed eClassroom’s research and business development. This experience was the springboard for John’s independent consulting in environmental policy and education which evolved into what Evergreen Education Group is today. John is deeply moved by stories of students and teachers who have been positively impacted by technology in classrooms, online courses, and innovative schools. He strives to tell these stories accurately and to clearly explain the challenges inherent with digital learning in order to bring an honest, balanced perspective to Evergreen’s insight and recommendations. His ability to approach research and relationships with consideration for bias and hierarchy makes him a natural connector between information and people. John has presented and led panel discussions at numerous conferences and convenings. In addition to his research for Evergreen, John writes regularly about various issues related to digital learning and is a contributing author of the Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning. His and Evergreen’s work has been cited in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Education Week, and eSchool News, and he has also appeared on NBC Nightly News.

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