The fast-growing field of online learning, in which over 4 million K–12 students1 and over 75 percent of school districts nationwide are utilizing some form of online learning, has the potential to transform the nation’s education system into a student-centric one that allows each child to reach her human potential. But currently the vast majority of policy does not reward operators for moving toward this potential.

Instead, as Innosight Institute’s case studies over the past two years reveal, the majority of policy is still focused on rewarding the systems, providers, and operators that best meet certain input measures, most of which are inappropriate for judging this emerging disruptive innovation of online learning. Focusing on inputs has the effect of locking a system into a set way of doing things and inhibiting innovation; focusing on outcomes, on the other hand, encourages continuous improvement against a set of overall goals and, in this case, can unlock a path toward the creation of a high-quality student-centric system. To this point it appears that policies that create access to online learning—as evidenced in the rapid growth of the movement—are outpacing policies that reward quality for each student.

Although the opportunity to use online learning to transition to a student-centric system remains bright, policymakers must take action to realize the promise. Below are a few policy recommendations that stem from the particular case studies we have chronicled over the past two years:

•    Pay online providers not just for serving children, but also for student performance.

•    Reward not just for output-based performance—as in, when a student completes a course—but for real learning outcomes independently verified.

•    Reward operators for individual student growth that takes into account formative and summative assessments.

•    Allow students to demonstrate competency through assessments, portfolios, or other means anytime they complete a course, not just at limited fixed times throughout the year.

•    Eliminate input-based rules, such as student-to-teacher-ratios, seat-time, and teacher- certification requirements.

•    Give school operators control over their budgets and allow them to have significantly more freedom in how they allocate dollars.

•    Ensure the proper infrastructure—Internet access and Internet-access devices—is in place.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

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

  • Katherine Mackey
    Katherine Mackey