10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning


10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning

The 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning (http://www.digitallearningnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Digital-Learning-Now-Report-FINAL1.pdf) was released at the 2010 Excellence in Action National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC. During the fall of 2010, the Digital Learning Council defined the elements and identified the actions that need to be taken by lawmakers and policymakers to foster a high-quality, customized education for all students. This includes technology-enhanced learning in traditional schools, online and virtual learning, and blended learning that combines online and onsite learning.

· About the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning

1. Student Eligibility

All students are digital learners.

2. Student Access

All students have access to high quality digital learning.

3. Personalized Learning

All students can use digital learning to customize their education.

4. Advancement

All students progress based on demonstrated competency.

5. Quality Content

Digital content and courses are high quality.

6. Quality Instruction

Digital instruction is high quality.

7. Quality Choices

All students have access to multiple high quality digital providers.

8. Assessment and Accountability

Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.

9. Funding

Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.

10. Delivery

Infrastructure supports digital learning.

Element #1 – Student Eligibility

Student Eligibility

All students are digital learners.


1. All students must be provided opportunities to access online courses throughout their entire K-12 experience.

2. All students must complete at least one online course to earn a high school diploma.

All students have a right to a high quality education. In the 21st century, a high quality education must include digital learning.

Students who are eligible for public school should be eligible for publicly funded digital learning. Establishing criteria for eligibility, such as previous attendance in a public school, only limits, delays and diminishes opportunities for learning.

Small increases in public school enrollment may be offset by lower cost virtual courses and savings gained by early graduation.

See Element #1 Video

Element #2 – Student Access

Student Access

All students have access to high-quality digital content and online courses.


3. Digital learning environments, including online and blended-learning schools, courses, and models, have flexibility with class-size restrictions and student-teacher ratios.

4. No school district may restrict student enrollment in full-time online school or in an individual online courses through enrollment caps or geographic boundaries.

5. All students can enroll in an unlimited number of individual online courses.

Digital learning opens the virtual door to a high quality education. Where technology has created unprecedented access to a high quality education, policies that limit or control access threaten to build virtual barriers where the walls have already come down. Moreover, restricting access based on geography, such as where a student lives, is illogical in the digital world where learning can occur anywhere and everywhere.

Capacity – not arbitrary caps on enrollment or budget – should be the only factor in limiting access to digital learning. A number in state statute should not deny a student access to digital learning where space is available.

With digital learning, teachers can provide one-on-one instruction and mentoring to many students across the nation. Artificially limiting class size, prescribing teacher-student ratios or restricting a teacher’s ability to serve students at multiple schools ignores the freedom and flexibility that comes with digital learning.

Requiring students to take a high quality college prep online course ensures students are better prepared to succeed in life after graduation in the digital age. A robust offering of digital content and online courses expands options and ensures students acquire knowledge and gain skills from the experience of digital learning.

See Element #2 Video

Element #3 – Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning

All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.


6. All students may enroll with more than one online course provider simultaneously.

7. All students may enroll in and begin an individual online course on a rolling basis anytime throughout the year.

Digital learning allows an individualized educational experience.

In today’s world, learning doesn’t have to start when a student enters the classroom and end when the school bell rings. Students can access digital learning virtually whenever and wherever they are – both physically and figuratively.

Access to a comprehensive catalog of online courses means a student in rural Indiana or inner city Detroit can learn Mandarin Chinese, forensic science or college-level calculus – regardless of whether their school offers these courses in a classroom.

With personalized learning, students can spend as little or as much time as they need to master the material. Self-paced programs mean high achieving students won’t get bored and can accelerate academically, while struggling students can get additional time and tutoring to gain competency and the confidence that comes with it.

Digital learning can extend the school day or school year and connect students with community resources with little or no additional cost. Flexible scheduling allows students to take full advantage of their peak learning times to complete lessons. To mitigate the cost of extending the school year, states could provide digital content 365 days a year but limit instructional support to shorter timeframes.

Best of all, students can experience blended learning. Students can learn in an online or computer-based environment part of the day and in traditional classroom, even one-on-one tutoring, for part of the day – essentially the best of both worlds combined into one education.

See Element #3 Video

Element #4 – Advancement


Students progress based on demonstrated competency.


8. All students must demonstrate mastery on standards-based competencies to earn credit for a course and to advance to the succeeding course.

9. All students are provided multiple opportunities during the year to take end-of-course exams.

10. All students earn credits based on competency and are not required to complete a defined amount of instructional time to earn credit.

11. All districts and approved providers in the state accept credits from all other districts and state-approved providers.

Grade level promotion has historically been dictated by birthdays, attendance and minimum achievement. Instructional pacing, aimed at the middle of the class, may be too fast or too slow for some students who become frustrated, disengaged and unmotivated.

Digital learning offers the potential for students to study at their own pace and advance based upon competency and mastery of the material — it is student-centered, not school-centered. In this environment, seat time requirements and the all-too-common practice of social promotion become obsolete. A student will spend as much time as necessary to gain competency. Additionally, digital learning adapts to situations where a student is ahead in one subject and behind in another.

Making high stakes assessments, which are used to trigger progression, available when students are ready will accelerate student learning.

See Element #4 Video

Element #5 – Quality Content

Quality Content

Digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.


12. All digital content and instruction must be aligned with state standards or Common Core State Standards.

13. No additional burdens are placed on the approval and procurement processes for digital content beyond those for print content.

14. Instructional material funding may be used for purchasing digital content and systems.

The dynamic nature of digital content and its varied uses requires a fresh and innovative approach to ensuring high quality content. Like print content, digital content should be aligned to state academic standards or common core standards for what students are expected to learn. However, digital content should not be held to higher standard than print content. Freedom for interactive engagement that results in higher student retention and achievement should be encouraged.

States should abandon the lengthy textbook adoption process and embrace the flexibility offered by digital content. Digital content can be updated in real time without a costly reprint. The ongoing shift from online textbooks to engaging and personalized content, including learning games, simulations, and virtual environments, makes the traditional review process even less relevant.

Transitioning to digital content will improve the quality of content, while likely saving money in production that can be dedicated to providing the infrastructure for digital learning.

See Element #5 Video

Element #6 – Quality Instruction

Quality Instruction

Digital instruction is high quality.


15. State allows alternative routes for teacher certification.

16. State allows reciprocity among other states for certification of teachers.

17. There is a statewide definition for “teacher of record.”

18. Teachers are permitted to be “teacher of record” in multiple schools.

19. Student-performance data is used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers.

20. Professional development in digital learning is available to teachers teaching an online or blended learning course.

Great teachers produce great students – wherever they live or learn. Digital learning erases physical barriers that have prevented the widespread connection between effective teachers and eager students. Statutory and administrative practices that stop instruction – at the classroom door, school campus, state border or even the nation’s border – limit access to quality educators.

A retired NASA scientist in Cape Canaveral who is qualified to teach physics in the Sunshine State should be able to teach students in any state in the country. A digital educator in one school should be able to teach students in multiple schools in-state or out-of-state.

Preparation and professional development programs should educate teachers and administrators on how to engage students, personalize learning, teach online and manage learning environments. Educators should be prepared for specific roles – traditional, blended or online – and then certified based on demonstrated performance.

Performance-based certification will become increasingly important as the number and type of roles for learning professionals expands.

Breaking down the barriers to digital instruction can improve the quality of education, while at the same time reduce costs. Teachers can serve students across the state or nation from one location. Digital learning lends itself to innovative staffing plans and formation of an opportunity culture that is appealing enough to attract and retain top teaching talent, and to maximize impact and minimize cost.

See Element #6 Video

Element #7 – Quality Choices

Quality Choices

All students have access to multiple high-quality digital providers.


21. Statewide digital-provider authorization includes:
a. virtual charter schools.
b. full-time online schools.
c. part-time individual online courses.
22. The criteria, process, and timeframe for authorizing online providers are clearly defined.
23. Online providers, including virtual charter schools, full-time online providers, and individual online course providers, are allowed to appeal decisions or revise and resubmit their applications after a denial.
24. Multiple opportunities during the year are available for virtual charter schools, full-time online providers, and individual online course providers to apply for approval.
25. Approval of digital providers lasts for three or more years.
26. State maintains a website that provides information and links to all digital learning opportunities, including all approved virtual charter schools, full-time online schools, and individual online course providers.

In the digital age, innovative learning programs are rapidly evolving and providers can be located anywhere. Regulations should reflect this new paradigm.

To maximize the potential of digital learning, states must provide a rich offering of providers that can cater to the diverse and distinctly unique needs of different students. States should set common-sense standards for entry, have a strong system of oversight and quality control, and foster a robust competitive environment where students can choose the provider who best meets their learning needs. Unnecessary administrative requirements, such as having a brick and mortar office in the district or state, create obstacles that prevent high quality providers from participating.

Public, not-for-profit and private for-profit organizations provide different benefits to the education consumers – both the students and the taxpayers. Public providers were pioneers in digital learning and provide a record of proven success in providing supplemental education in partnership with school districts. Not-for-profits extend access and often make contributions to open education resources. Private providers have the capital to invest in development of high quality content, can administer comprehensive school management services and offer collaboration opportunities with their national network of students.

Consumers of education – both students and parents –often provide the best feedback on the quality of providers. A publicly available database that fosters a feedback loop, similar to tools used by Amazon or eBay, would help parents and students make informed decisions about digital learning.

See Element #7 Video

Element #8 – Assessment and Accountability

Assessment and Accountability

Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.


27. State-mandated assessments in core subjects, including annual assessments, end-of-course exams, and high school exit exams, must be administered digitally, either online or on a computer.
28. Outcomes-based student-performance data is used to evaluate the quality of virtual charter
schools, full-time online providers, and individual online courses.
29. As determined by outcomes-based student-performance data, these poor performing schools and courses must be closed:
a. virtual charter schools.
b. full-time online schools.
c. individual online course providers.

Administering tests digitally has multiple benefits. Tests can be administered and scored quickly and efficiently. Computerized scoring provides the opportunity for a cost effective method to create better tests beyond multiple choice, including simulations and constructed responses. Getting the result of tests faster can improve instruction as well as expedite rewards and consequences, which can strengthen accountability for learning.

Learning management systems, digital curriculum, and online summative and formative assessments have the distinctive capability of collecting real-time data on the progress of each student against learning objectives. Instant feedback for students and personalized analytics for teachers provide the support for continuous improvement and competency-based progress.

Outcomes matter. States should hold schools and online providers accountable using
student learning to evaluate the quality of content or instruction. Providers and programs that are poor performing should have their contracts terminated.

History has proven that inputs, such as teacher certification, programmatic budgets and textbook reviews, do not guarantee a quality education. In fact, these regulatory processes often stifle innovation and diminish quality. Policymakers should resist attempts to create a checklist of inputs and, instead, focus on developing an accountability framework that is based on outcomes.

While conversion to digital assessments requires an initial investment, transitioning to a digital system can save money in the long run.

See Element #8 Video

Element #9 – Funding


Funding creates incentives for performance, options, and innovation.


30. Public funds are available for online learning to:
a. all district public school students.
b. all charter public school students.
c. all private school students.
d. all home education students.
31. State funding for digital learning is provided through the public per-pupil school funding formula.
32. Funding is provided on a fractional, per course basis to pay providers for individual online courses.
33. Funding follows the student to the school or course of their choice.
34. The same per-pupil funding with the same payment process is provided to all virtual charter schools, full-time online schools, and individual online course providers, regardless of whether the school is public, charter, not-for-profit, or for-profit.
35. Providers receive final funding payment upon course completion based on student daily attendance, performance, and competency.

How money is spent is as important as how much money is spent on education. Funding should fuel achievement and innovation, not reward complacency and bureaucracy.

Paying for success will yield success. Right now, the majority of education funding rewards attendance. Schools get paid when students show up, regardless of what or how much students learn or achieve. Under that framework, its no wonder achievement is stagnant.

Moreover, digital learning can actually save money in the long run. Full-time virtual schools can save money on facilities or transportation compared to traditional schools. Supplemental programs offering individual course enrollments can offer even bigger savings to states and districts. As digital learning grows, economies of scale will drive costs down. Partners within states or across state lines can further increase the purchasing power.

Given fiscal challenges faced by governments across the country, states need to be innovative to meet the challenge of providing access to digital content. To build a quality digital learning environment, states will have to spend smarter – not necessarily more. Geographically unbounded digital learning provides incentive for states to develop an equalized and weighted funding formula that better matches resources with individual student needs regardless of zip code.

See Element #9 Video

Element #10 – Delivery


Infrastructure supports digital learning.


36. All schools have high-speed broadband Internet access.

37. All teachers are provided with Internet access devices.

38. All students have access to Internet access devices.

39. All of the Data Quality Campaign’s 10 State Actions to Ensure an Effective Data Use are achieved.

The proliferation of mobile phones and access devices suggests the potential of mobile learning. Students are already using mobile devices to communicate, access and share information, conduct research, and analyze data. These devices are the gateway to digital learning.

Digital learning will also support educators in better identifying and meeting student needs by providing them real-time data on student performance, expanded access to resources to individualize instruction, and online learning communities to gain professional development support.

States can adopt a variety of approaches to accelerate the shift to digital content, online assessment, and high access environments including learning environments that take advantage of student owned devices. While local choice and options should be empowered, states can use purchasing power to negotiate lower cost licenses and contracts for everything from digital content to access devices to mobile Internet services. Equipment and services can be provided based on financial need. Public-private partnerships can also become a tool to build and sustain the infrastructure for digital learning.

See Element #10 Video


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