February 27, 2020

February 27 is Digital Learning Day, set aside “to actively spread innovative practices and ensure that all youth have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities no matter where they live.”1 For practitioners and researchers like us, this is a day we can all get behind. Digital learning is happening in and around schools all the time. National estimates from 2015-16 indicated that 57.5% of public high schools offered courses entirely online.2 Yet rigorous research is limited for K–12 online learning, which means that determining effective approaches to delivering content and supporting students in an online context can be challenging.

Schools and districts are searching for evidence to guide them in deciding where to spend their online learning resources. And options abound—from course providers to learning management systems to ways to prepare and support online learners. To help build a research evidence base, we partnered with Michigan Virtual and Michigan Department of Education to examine whether an online orientation will help students successfully complete their online courses. We presented at the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) this week, which sparked a discussion about how best to prepare students for online learning.

Conversations among researcher and practitioner colleagues continued at DLAC, which highlighted the policy and practice questions that still need to be studied and the importance of trusted information. Yet, answers to these questions can only become reality if researchers, state and local education agencies, and online learning providers work together to better understand students’ needs, to study interventions, and to make sense of data in the rapidly changing world of online learning.

  • Researchers need practitioners to ensure that questions are relevant, and that data are accessible, usable, and protected.
  • Practitioners need researchers to understand the data and options available through learning management systems, to work through the challenges of linking data sets, and to make sense of what is happening with students in their online courses.

As we celebrate Digital Learning Day 2020, we encourage researchers, practitioners, and online program developers to continue to improve online instruction, expand inclusive and equitable access to online courses, and support students to be successful online. We hope you will find a partner and join us!


 Erin Stafford, project director, facilitates partnerships between researchers and practitioners to address questions of policy and practice.
 Jacqueline Zweig, senior research scientist, conducts quantitative research in partnership with education agencies to provide new insights into online learning.


1Digital Learning Day. (n.d.) About DLDay: Why celebrate digital learning day? Retrieved from https://digitallearningday.org/about-dlday/

2U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). National teacher and principal survey (NTPS). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/tables/Table_3_042617_fl_school.asp

Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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