The Case for Michigan's Online Learning Mandate


01.24.2007—In a recent editorial in K-12 Tech Trends by Patricia Deubel, Ph.D, "Should States Mandate Online Learning," the author questions Michigan's new high school graduation requirement, which mandates students take an non-credit online course or learning experience. It should be noted that, in addition to this experience, Michigan has adopted 16 credits state graduation requirements, including four credits in mathematics and three in science—yes, Algebra, Algebra II, Biology, and Chemistry which will go into effect for the Class of 2011.

Truly, we live in exponential times, where adults have become Digital Immigrants and students Digital Natives, where each day students spend 6.2 hours using electronic media. It is estimated by a student's 21st birthday, he or she will have personally sent more than 250,000 messages. Currently, the amount of new technology is doubling every two years. It is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2010.

Why should students have an online learning experience? To quote Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm: "Our online learning requirement makes Michigan a leader among all the states in using the power of the Internet to create learning opportunities in the classroom, the home, and the workplace. In a world that demands life long learning, we are giving our students and our state a competitive advantage when it comes to landing the good-paying jobs of the 21st Century economy."

It has been said, we as educators must begin preparing our students for the future ... not our past. Our kids are connected, and technology is now a part of their lives. We live in an age were our world is more technical, increasingly digital, connected, and 24/7. What is more, we understand that learning cannot stop upon graduation, be contained in the classroom, and be limited by the linear, synchronous models of the past.

Patricia Deubel's editorial also expresses concern as to whether all learners can be successful in an online learning environment. Studies show all students learn better through discovery than being told. The website LD Online, a leading site on learning disabilities and ADHD states, "Technology can open doors and break down barriers for children, youth, and adults with disabilities. Whether in the classroom or workplace, assistive technology (including devices, software, recordings, and much more) can increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Also, technology that is used by everyone, such as spell check, can be particularly helpful to people with learning disabilities."

If we want all students to have the ability to achieve and succeed in and after high school, shouldn't we give all students the opportunity to experience different modalities of instruction to find which suits them best? The intent of Michigan's online learning requirement is not to set up students for failure if they cannot meet the requirement, but instead give students the opportunity to experience online learning.

Having taught online high school and college courses, we personally can appreciate this concern, having had to adapt our instruction—both tools and practice—to accommodate all types of learners, including a vision-impaired student last semester who regularly frequented the in-person office hour. Together, we confirmed what she had learned online and, as instructor, I gained insight into how to restructure my online class to incorporate more assistive technologies and practices.

If this course had not been part of a degree completion program, however, this student may have opted not to enroll because of the perceived barriers. In this anecdotal example, we see the power of the Michigan mandate: It requires both learners and educators to adapt and adopt new technologies and skills that will make them more successful long after the particular online experience has ended.

To support educators and students in accomplishing the broad vision embodied in the new online requirement, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) recently formed the Office of Educational Technology and Data Coordination and charged it with leading and facilitating the successful adoption of the Online Learning Experience as part of a broader responsibility for implementing Michigan's Educational Technology Plan. It is therefore our job to help educators develop real options within the flexible guidelines that govern the Online Experience. (For more information on these requirements and our efforts, visit and

While many of Michigan's school districts and public school academies have a head start in offering students meaningful online experiences, MDE, in partnership with Microsoft and Michigan Virtual University, has developed a career-development course, titled CareerForward, which will be offered to Michigan school districts at no cost, starting next month. (For more on Career Forward, visit

This course is just the one in a series of initiatives our new Office will use to achieve the goal of every student completing an online experience before graduation. It is one step of many Michigan is taking to lead our citizens into the future, into a new era where our great State can compete once again with the world's best and thrive.

About the authors: Bruce Umpstead is the director and Barbara Fardell the manager of the Office of Educational Technology & Data Coordination for the Michigan Department of Education. The Michigan Department of Education's website can be found at