By Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag

The shift to digital learning is a historic opportunity to rethink school. Quality curriculum, inexpensive devices and blended and online learning models have extended the benefits of personalization to many American students. Evidence of deeper learning outcomes as a result of digital learning also continue to fuel school and district support.

Houston Independent School District (HISD), serving over 200,000 students with a wide range of needs, has been a leader in the shift to digital. While phasing in a technology infrastructure, HISD held community conversations about preparing all students for college, work and life.

In a recent presentation we did together, Natalie Blasingame, HISD Assistant Superintendent for Academic Interventions, described the many ways they have deployed digital curriculum from Apex Learning, and the folks at Apex agree that curriculum should match the district learning goals and ought to include student engagement strategies, assessment and support.

Building on the HISD list, the following are 10 ways a district can deploy a high-quality digital curriculum.

1. Online courses. Learning online is the new normal for students of all ages. There are endless options to advance or get your degree, learn a new skill and connect with others. High-quality content and user experience are what differentiate some courses from the rest. Online courses in middle and high school are particularly helpful as we move away from the hyper-structured school day and move towards more blended environments and project-based learning. Students who do not attend a traditional school who need to earn credits on their own time also benefit from access to high-quality digital courses.

2. Core content in blended courses. Online learning should enhance and bolster student learning—digital curriculum can provide more personalized learning than a student is otherwise getting. Quality control is essential for schools and educators in blended learning environments; educators want to know that students are covering core content and meeting standards, and that student online learning is personalized and meaningful.

3. Supplement in blended courses. Adaptive tutorials and assigned units can supplement teacher developed core content in a blended course. Tutorials can also be useful supports for a project-based approach.

4. Credit recovery. Students often decide that dropping out is a better option after they realize how difficult it can be to make up failed courses. Digital courses that provide students credit recovery can be a huge relief and solution. Students can take courses again on their own time and do not have to wait until the next time a course is offered.

5. Expand AP options. Most high schools can only afford to offer a couple of Advanced Placement courses. With access to digital courses online, students anywhere can have the opportunity to have AP learning—including the next generation courses that encourage deeper learning. This is increasingly important as the bar for college entrance and necessary entry-level job requirements only continue to rise.

6. Expand elective options. Students, especially those in middle and high school, want voice and choice in their learning. Digital curriculum can provide students options, even if a course or content is not offered at their school.

7. Expand CTE options. College might be the goal for students, but many opt to head straight into the workforce. With the decrease in funding for vocational, career and technical education courses, these students often aren’t getting the type of teaching & learning experiences they want or need. Online CTE options can be a great way to ensure that these students are also really ready.

8. Student Acceleration. Over-aged middle school students needing to bridge the gap to high school can benefit from digital learning during the summer or school year. Students who are hoping to advance or graduate early also can use digital courses to achieve their goals.

9. Expand language learning. Districts looking to support language learning often face the challenge of finding the right teachers. Digital learning not only has the potential to provide language courses for students, but also language support and translation for students that are learning English.

10. Provide additional support, mentoring and tutorials. Student interest and engagement often increases when they feel they have adequate support and guidance, especially when they are working on materials or skills that they are struggling with.

Over the next couple of months, we’re working with Apex Learning to highlight what it means for middle and high school students to be #ReallyReady. This blog is part of our “Really Ready” series in partnership with Apex Learning. For more, see the Really Ready Student campaign page and join the conversation on social media using #ReallyReady.

For more on student readiness for college and career, see:


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