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Digital Learning Day Highlights Virtual Teaching Tools and Practices

Lawmakers are recognizing instructional practices that use technology to strengthen students’ learning experiences.

By Lauren Gendill  |  February 15, 2024

The 13th annual Digital Learning Day—designated as Feb. 15 this year by the nonprofit advocacy organization All4Ed—highlights digital learning tools and teaching practices. As states have adopted resolutions in observance of the day, school leaders, teachers and students have participated in digital learning events and activities.

Digital learning includes “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Although digital learning existed before the pandemic, the term received new attention when schools shifted from in-person instruction to distance education models in 2020. As states have recognized the potential of online learning, and as technologies such as artificial intelligence emerge, lawmakers are increasingly focused on digital learning’s potential opportunities and challenges.

Post-Pandemic Trends

Coming out of the pandemic, and in the context of national assessment achievement score declines, some states have used digital instruction in intervention programs. In 2021, Colorado created a statewide program of supplemental online learning recovery courses for K-12 students, and Idaho provided adaptive learning  tools for literacy intervention programs.

Other states have considered digital technology in the context of the future of learning. Recent research suggests that digital tools can support personalized learning frameworks, competency-based education, and college and career readiness. In 2022, Idaho established a self-directed learner designation and flexible learning, allowing students to attend school virtually and participate in extended learning opportunities. In 2023, Montana created the Digital Academy Clearinghouse of services, including regular, college, dual-credit and industry-recognized credential courses, and Washington state initiated an online platform for high schoolers that includes personality and aptitude assessments, a career-exploration catalog and a space connecting students with employers.

Six states—Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas—have created digital learning task forces or commissions since 2021. These entities have informed the development of remote learning standards, digital safety guidelines and virtual learning recommendations.

However, as indicated by the guidance issued by the groups, the expansion of digital learning tools has raised questions concerning student data privacy and security. Since 2021, at least 13 states have enacted measures establishing electronic device and software standards, internet use policies, and technology protection measures. Recently, Texas adopted standards for school electronic devices and software applications, and Virginia amended internet safety measures to provide for resources, assistance programs, and instruction on safe uses of technology and media in schools.

Legislators remain focused on the opportunities and challenges of technology as they navigate the complexities of artificial intelligence. Education departments in states such as California, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington and West Virginia have issued guidance on the use of AI in educational contexts, and resources such as the AI Guidance for Schools Toolkit have come out of partnerships across the K-12 spectrum. Nine states introduced AI legislation specific to education in January alone, an indication of ongoing interest in digital learning in the context of emerging technologies.

Lauren Gendill is a policy analyst in NCSL’s Education Program.

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