A month has passed since the first-ever national Digital Learning Day. Given the excitement generated from teachers and others tuning in to the National Town Hall meeting and given today’s National Leadership Summit on Online Learning up on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. that iNACOL sponsored, I thought it was worth noting some great examples that weren’t highlighted during the day’s festivities. To our friends in the field, these examples are familiar, but they remind us that what is so exciting about technology is the power that it holds to move our education system toward a student-centric model of learning where students can move at their own path and pace to boost student outcomes.

KIPP Empower Academy is a Los Angeles-based elementary school that opened in 2010. It currently serves kindergarteners and 1st graders, and it plans to grow by one grade each year up to 4th grade. A blended-learning school, students rotate between individualized online-learning, and small-group stations within each classroom. In the school’s first year, its now 1st-grade students experienced some notable results. As reported on its website, “Though many students at KIPP Empower Academy entered kindergarten without basic letter and number recognition skills, by the end of the year, 96 percent were reading and performing math at or above the national average.” Not only that, but many students were also reading at a “2.5” grade level and performing math almost at the 3rd-grade level. And reported teacher satisfaction at the school was sky high.

Carpe Diem is a blended school based in Yuma, Ariz., which will be expanding beyond the state into Indiana in the next school year. The school, which serves grades 6 through 12, uses an individual-rotation model. In 35-minute increments students rotate from online learning for concept introduction and instruction to face-to-face for reinforcement and application. In 2010, Carpe Diem ranked first in its county in student performance in math and reading and ranked among the top 10 percent of Arizona charter schools.

The Los Altos School District began using the Khan Academy last year in a handful of 5th-grade and two 7th-grade classrooms to blend its math learning. This year the district has incorporated Khan Academy into its math curriculum for all 5th- through 8th-grade students—about 1,000 in all. With Khan Academy, teachers are able to individualize learning for each child based on real-time data. The blended-learning environment in Los Altos schools allows for seamless targeted intervention and flexible groupings, as well as real collaboration among students—all of which allows them to exercise their own student voice and choice.

Quakertown Community School District (QCS) is a traditional school district in Pennsylvania that has embraced the power of online learning to create a “self-blend” learning environment for students. All students in grades 6 through 12 have the option to take one or more online courses, and district teachers teach all the courses with the exception of those, like Mandarin, where there is no certified teacher available within the district. Two district teachers are responsible for only online courses, and roughly 75 percent of all QCS teachers are responsible for at least one online course. Courses are asynchronous; students can work on their assignments at any time during the day. Many students take advantage of this option in order to work around vocational programs, work schedules, and extracurricular interests. Some take these classes at home, and others work on them during free periods during the school day. There are designated areas in the high schools and middle schools, called cyber lounges, where students can work comfortably in a cafe setting between their face-to-face classes. The online courses allow students to move at their own pace and complete courses based on competency rather than being tethered to the traditional semester timeline.

Most powerfully, students in the district have produced a number of videos that speak to the power of the district’s approach, from the advantages of online learning from students’ point of view to the perspective of a face-to-face and online teacher, as well as a video that summarizes the district’s positive and improving student outcomes.

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For more video viewing of blended-learning schools, I also recommend checking out the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools BLAST school, which is turning heads in Los Angeles.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.