With the arrival on February 1, 2012 of the first-ever national Digital Learning Day, the disruptive innovation of K-12 online learning—from in blended-learning environments to remote ones—seems to be taking yet another step toward the mainstream.

For over a couple decades, supporters of technology in education have talked of its potential benefits in transforming education. But beyond a set of enthusiastic early adopters, the use of technology in formal education remained largely stalled. Its talked-about benefits remained unrealized at best, as the cramming of computers produced few notable results that scaled.

With the rise of online learning, that began to change. Its growth is rapid and undeniable. Increasingly we’re seeing online learning stretch beyond areas of nonconsumption—where the alternative is nothing at all and where disruptive innovations first take root.

The shift from print to digital, as Tom Vander Ark so succinctly puts it, is upon us. Singapore for some time has had an e-learning week.

Now we have our first Digital Learning Day.

As we approach this day, and as district schools, charter schools, and states around the country participate, we must make sure that this doesn’t become a day that is all about technology for technology’s sake.

The critical thing is to fashion a student-centric system powered by digital learning that allows each child to realize his or her fullest human potential. Technology in this vision becomes the backbone that helps us to customize an education for each child’s unique learning needs, not the gadget that’s just there because it’s cool or because we simply think learning through or with technology is the way we should do it now.

To do this right, it’s important to bear in mind the definition of digital learning from Digital Learning Now’s Roadmap for Reform: “Digital learning is learning facilitated by technology that gives students some element of control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” The document defines each of these elements and offers the following line: “Digital learning is more than just providing students with a laptop.”

As our formal education systems move into the digital age, we should do so with the student and his or her learning at the center, not technology.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

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