NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

As Digital Learning Draws New Users, Transformation Will Occur

November 7, 2012

When it comes to the topic of education, many Americans agree that innovation is crucial going forward. Today's education system still draws inspiration from the industrialization era, where mass production was the norm. The system was emulated after a factory, time rather than learning as the primary unit of measurement, says Michael B. Horn, executive director of the education practice of Innosight Institute and executive editor at Education Next.

The growth of virtual learning shows promise in transforming the nation's public education system. It aims to tailor an academic experience for each child that will boost student achievement affordably. Indeed, moving away from seat-time requirements toward a competency-based system, in which student advance upon master of a concept or skill, is critical to unleashing the full power of digital learning.

According to Horn, ushering in the next wave of an education renaissance must be implemented in a piecemeal fashion.

  • Online learning is a disruptive innovation -- such innovations start as simple products or services that appeal to people on the fringes who cannot access, use, or afford the sector's primary solutions.
  • The rise of e-mail is a classic example.
  • E-mail did not seek to change the regulations and the business model for the postal service. The change transpired over time, when people recognized that it was more convenient.
  • Similar patterns will manifest with digital learning.

It is vital that online learning develops within a newly imagined regulatory structure that puts students and their intellectual pursuits at the center.

  • Today, however, the infrastructures receiving the funds aren't always the best for students, because a policy framework that would distinguish on the basis of quality is not in place.
  • Engineering systems in which resources follow student performance make good sense, and is critical to this new innovation.

Source: Michael B. Horn, "As Digital Learning Draws New Users, Transformation Will Occur," Education Next, Winter 2013.


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