Not All Digital Curriculum is Created Equal

A recent article in Slate, part of a series covering the rise of online learning, profiles the author’s experience using one vendor’s digital curriculum. He was bored and unmotivated. The author also questioned the rigor of the courses, specifically the structure and how concepts were presented.

And this is the upshot: there’s a wide range of quality among digital curriculum providers. Effective digital curriculum is not digitized text books, repetitive tasks, or recorded lectures. Effective digital curriculum is rigorous and standards-driven, yet provides support when students need it so they are challenged, but motivated to persist. When students have the opportunity to actively participate in the learning process, they stay engaged and learn more.

It can be frustrating and challenging to engage students. Some may argue that boredom is just part of the learning experience, but this can have serious consequences for student achievement, as a Gates Foundation report shows. High school students who dropped out were surveyed to understand their perspectives and gain insight into why students drop out: 

  • 47% of respondents said the major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting
  • 69% said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard
  • Two-thirds would have worked harder if there were higher expectations of their academic performance

Learn by Doing: Active Learning For All Students

Does your district’s digital curriculum really incorporate active learning? Passing the course is one thing. Being really ready for the next step -- whether it’s taking high-stakes exams, high school, college, or work – requires students to acquire both academic and social/emotional skills. With an active learning environment, students aren’t passive recipients of knowledge: they make observations, ask questions, create, connect, and confirm. Learning is continuously assessed, so feedback is immediate and there’s no waiting for test results to see if students truly understand the material.

Learn by Watching: It Doesn’t Click

The author of the Slate article observed that “Oftentimes, I confess, my concentration wavered or I zoned out completely, and I had to replay the short videos a second or third time.” Imagine an ELL student who is struggling with academic vocabulary watching the same video lecture over again with no supports that present material in a different way or personalize learning in a way that identifies and fills in learning gaps. Pre-recorded lectures don’t offer the context-based supports essential for struggling students to build content mastery or language acquisition.

Don’t Wait For Students To Fail

When students fail to engage with their learning, whether in the traditional classroom or online course, the result is often a falling grade. And we know that when students fail their first class the odds of dropping out rise dramatically—and increase rapidly with every additional failed course. When you wait for students to fail before intervening, you face much greater odds that they won't have the skills, confidence, and motivation to graduate.

Engaged Students Are Motivated Students

High-quality digital curriculum involves multiples components – there’s a lot more than just the user interface. Digital curriculum can build genuine interest in learning goals by making the topics exciting through an engaging media, immersive experiences, different ways of framing problems, and connections to real-world challenges far outside a classroom.

Students must find value in the goals of their coursework. Equally as important, they need to believe that they can reach those goals by learning what they are taught. In this way, higher levels of engagement and motivation lead to higher levels of achievement.

Download the white paper to learn how increased student achievement correlates to engaging and motivating digital curriculum.

Digital learning, engagement, and motivation

There aren’t any shortcuts to developing high-quality digital curriculum. Likewise online learning shouldn’t shortchange your students. It’s not unreasonable to expect rigorous, standards-driven digital curriculum that not only delivers an engaging experience to all students, but also helps districts meet their goals for student achievement.

Visit the guide to student achievement for more resources.