Why Are K-12 Students Choosing Blended and Online Learning?

The start of a new school year is a big milestone that parents and their students have marked over the past two months. For some, this transition hasn’t involved a school bus or a celebratory drop-off. The first day of school for a full time online student doesn’t require transportation of any kind, or even a journey beyond their living room. A growing number of K-12 students across the United States have embraced online learning programs that allow them to study at their own pace and offer the flexibility to explore their talents and passions while continuing their education, Others have begun to experience blended learning programs that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning to provide a more personalized academic path. In these environments, students are moving at their own pace, applying contemporary technology skills and accessing courses that may not be readily available within their local districts. Their reasons for doing so are as diverse as their individual profiles, and in many cases, involve some overlap. A few examples include:

  • Pace: Some students may have been struggling academically in a traditional setting, while others felt they simply weren’t challenged enough by existing curricula;
  • Future-focused: Some students wanted to earn college credits more easily during high school, while others desired to combine studies toward a trade or vocation;
  • Safety: Some students may have had a difficult experience with bullying, and wanted to learn in a more welcoming environment, while others may live in dangerous areas and wanted to avoid in-school violence.
  • Flexibility: Some students may have outside interests that require more flexibility than a traditional school day allows, while others may be coping with challenging life changes and need.
  • Health: Some students may have a physical disability and find alternative learning environments more accommodating, while others may have mental health issues that make alternative programs a better option.

As illustrated by the variety of reasons students select these programs, there is no ‘typical’ online or blended learning student. In many ways, blended and online programs are encouraging individual agency, as students manage their own learning experiences -- while laying a critical foundation for student equity by providing more avenues for growth. As the opportunities expand, taking a closer look at how these alternative options are designed to meet students’ needs will help us to better understand how these populations can be better served.

In partnership with Evergreen Education, the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has produced a report, Why Do Students Choose Blended and Online Schools?, which examines the motivations behind students’ decisions to opt into an alternative approach to traditional K-12 education. In it, you’ll find case studies from online and blended schools, including some that are part of a district portfolio and some that operate independently of the traditional system. The insights shared within the report, coupled with in-depth school stories from schools throughout the country offer parents, administrators, teachers, and students a clearer picture of how blended and online learning is evolving to support all learners.

As Amy Valentine, Executive Director of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, has described the project:

“In gathering the data and conclusions contained within this report, we have gone directly to the source to discover which aspects of blended and online learning models are attractive to students and where gaps remain. Our goal is to help education leaders, policymakers, learning designers, and educators understand more clearly the motivation behind one area of school choice our students and their parents make. Keeping student and parent voices central to the conversations that states, districts, and schools are having about the future of teaching and learning is essential to not only meeting the needs of a new generation of students, but to ensuring that ‘school’ serves all students.”

You can download the full report here.

-- Would you like to know more about the kinds of K-12 students who study via blended or online learning programs? Check out our YouTube channel, which features student videos with personal stories from our latest cohort of scholarship recipients.