17 Sep 2018


Leaders looking to expand learning opportunities through technology and digital learning should begin with a strategic review of their goals, challenges, and current settings. There is no one right solution or strategy, and the effective use of digital learning outside the regular classroom can look very different in various learning environments. It is also critical that leaders focus on the instructional needs of students first and then look at the ways in which technology can be used as a tool to meet those needs.

Local and state education leaders need to redefine their roles in order to function as “orchestra conductors of learning.” They should tap the rich array of available and reliable community, business, and college partners to deliver and support digital learning during the afterschool hours, weekends, and summers, rather than rely exclusively on a single instrument for delivering instruction—the traditional school (that is, the traditional 6 hour school day, the 180-day school year, and school spaces) that have defined and constrained formal learning opportunities for children and youth for generations. Expanding learning time is a key strategy for schools and districts desiring to be more innovative and economically efficient in how they structure and deliver teaching and learning. The idea of anytime, anyplace learning has especially strong potential for high school students, whose unique needs and challenges are often best met outside the traditional high school structure. Consequently, school and community leaders should consider a range of options for expanding learning time.

Afterschool programs There are also many examples of the successful use of technology-based learning programs that operate during the hours after school. In Wichita, Kansas, the school district operates dropout recovery centers in which students can take computer-based courses in office spaces in local malls and community centers and on high school campuses. Licensed teachers are onsite, and the hours are flexible. Credit recovery centers located inside high schools serve students who have fallen behind but not yet dropped out by allowing them to take courses after school. The cost of these centers is just one-third of the district’s per-pupil expenditure (Mackey, 2010). Another center, LifeSkills, of Orange County, Florida, is a public charter school located in a shopping center. Many of LifeSkills’ students had dropped out or were failing when they came to the center. Students advance based on demonstrated competency. Many of these students hold jobs and, therefore, need a flexible school schedule; the school’s design and technology meet that need (Wise, 2011).

Expanded Learning Time at a Crossroads

Expanded learning programs now stand at a crossroads. Over the next 2 years, as states work to implement college- and career-ready standards along with online assessments, there are opportunities for expanded learning programs after school and during summers to step up and partner with communities, 2- to 4-year colleges, schools, and states to provide strategic, integrated, and powerful learning opportunities. It is imperative that schools and communities come together to develop plans and action steps for how they can not only better utilize technology to accelerate the pace of improvement, but also do so outside of the traditional classroom—after school, during the summer, and in ways that make learning truly a 24/7 experience.


Mackey, K. (March 2010). Wichita Public Schools’ Learning Centers: Creating a new educational model to serve dropouts and at-risk students.Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/ WichitaCaseStudy.pdf

Mitchell, B. (2012, February 1). Leadership and innovation: BYO technology (B. Wise, Interviewer) [Video webcast]. Retrieved from http://www.digitallearningday.org/news-and-events/eventmap/ archives/dldwebcast/

Seeing how high tech works with high touch [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.all4ed.org/blog/seeing_how_high_tech_works_high_touch

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