Online learning should be a high school graduation requirement. Here's why.

Why do we ask students to complete certain requirements before they graduate?

Whether schools require completion of core coursework, fulfillment of athletic or community service commitments, or achievement of certain test scores, there is an important idea that drives these choices: we believe certain experiences, knowledge, and skills are essential to success in the world beyond high school. Ideally, the requirements we designate reflect the core competencies that students need to succeed in college, career, and citizenship.

In that case, I have a proposal:

High school students should be required to take an online course before they graduate.

Three Reasons to Make Online Learning a Graduation Requirement

1. It’s an important component of college and career advancement.

Nearly 30 percent of college undergraduates take at least one online course during their college careers. According to that same study, the number of students learning online is growing, while the number of students living on campus is declining. “Higher education” is becoming a more nuanced term, no longer requiring dorms, lecture halls, campuses, or even two or four years of enrollment. Advancements in technology are making online learning more effective, more versatile, and more accessible. It’s causing higher education to rethink time and space, a reevaluation of core values that’s happening in the working world, as well. The increasing demand for employees to “skill up” quickly and on-demand has given rise to new modes of credentialing like nanodegrees. Online learning offers a low-cost, accessible method for people to advance professionally, often while still working. Developing comfort and fluency with these digital environments in high school prepares students for a world that will expect them to be able to leverage online learning to fulfill their ambitions.

2. It exposes students to modern, relevant ways to communicate and build relationships.

Education should be about not only what we learn, but also how we learn. High schools are preparing students for a world where increasing numbers of professionals are working remotely (and like it), and the proliferation of social media and other communication tools are changing the ways we interact with each other, making it easier than ever to build relationships across distances, eliminating language and other barriers to meaningful and effective communication. Just as we ask high school students to collaborate, to demonstrate empathy and care, and to build effective social skills in face-to-face environments, so should we be seeking opportunities for them to build those same relationship-building skills in online environments.

3. It teaches students how to use technology for deep, sustained learning.

Important, serious questions are being raised about the role of technology in students’ lives. The answer to these questions, however, is not to eliminate access to technology. It’s not the tool that’s the problem; it’s how we use it. The damaging myth that our students are naturally adept at technology ignores an important nuance: most students know how to use technology in superficial ways but have not yet received guidance in how it can support deep learning about topics they care about. This is where schools and teachers, as designers of learning experiences, play a critical role. Embedding online learning in high school reveals to students how technology can make learning more flexible and more relevant. It teaches them healthy, productive habits in technology use and digital citizenship. What’s more, research has shown what we’ve always known to be true: students learn in different ways, and leveraging online learning is a way to introduce more personalized, learner-driven experiences, encouraging students to see technology as their partner in lifelong learning rather than a diversion from it.

Not all online learning experiences are created equal

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are dying due to their lack of effectiveness. Most of the companies that offered MOOC’s now offer job prep skills programs instead. Research is revealing that the quality of online learning has less to do with technology and more to do with relationships, pedagogy, and relevance. In other words, what we’re learning about online learning is that, just like certain brick-and-mortar teaching practices, certain modes of online learning aren’t effective in developing the skills students need to thrive outside of school.

Seek experiences that leverage the environment’s potential for student voice and choice, that reward students for independent and curiosity-driven learning, and that think differently about how and when learning takes place. Engage students in this exploratory process by piloting different types of online learning and asking for their feedback.

The decision to add a graduation requirement is a serious one: it’s a statement about your school’s core values, it’s a suggestion of urgency to your families, and it’s a commitment to ensure every student has a chance to succeed at fulfilling it. While graduation requirements are designed to prepare students for their futures, they are also a reflection of a school’s present: what kind of experiences matter to our school? What kind of community are we trying to build? What kind of learners do we want to develop? As with any other requirement, the online experiences you ask your students to engage in should reflect your answers to those questions.

Global Online Academy (GOA) reimagines learning to empower students and teachers to thrive in a globally networked society. Professional learning opportunities are open to any educator. To sign up or to learn more, see our Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators or email with the subject title “Professional Learning.” Follow us on Twitter @GOALearning. To stay up to date on GOA learning opportunities, sign up for our newsletter here.

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