Online Learning Keeps Our Kids on Track and in School

By Stuart Udell

From serving on the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) board, I’ve learned that access to school choice is a critical part of meeting the diverse learning needs of our children. This is particularly true for marginalized students who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Research shows that students who drop out are influenced by a wide range of factors, and that the act of leaving school is usually not the consequence of any one particular event, but rather a long process of disengagement.

One of the causes of this disengagement is a lack of fit between student and school. Many students struggle to thrive and learn in the setting of a traditional school. Placing a recovered student back into the same environment, classroom and teaching modality will generally not prove to be successful. This is why providing a variety of learning options is essential to preventing students from becoming dropouts, and paving the way for their postsecondary success.

Perhaps not surprisingly, online learning is a core component of the NDPC’s research-based strategies that have been shown to make a positive impact on graduation rates. These digital learning strategies--particularly as deployed in virtual schools--have worked so well with at-risk students because they effectively embed several proven dropout prevention strategies:

  • individualized learning;

  • student mentoring;

  • 1:1 and group tutoring;

  • the creation of safe learning environments;

  • alternative schooling;

  • and parent engagement. 

But our research has shown that increasing access to these educational options does far more than improve graduation rates. Students who choose online learning are ‘pioneers’ of digital learning, taking ownership not only of their education, but also their lives. Their K-12 experience becomes more than just an obligatory rite of passage—it’s a learning journey that can lead to a wide choice of postsecondary destinations.

My belief in the power of online learning to keep more kids in school has led me to dedicate the last 16 years of my life to working with the NDPC. And it’s why I’m now proud to be joining the board of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning.