Graduating high school students across America has escalated into a massive undertaking. High school graduation is contingent upon a wide range of variables, including unique learning needs, monetary deficits, lack of or inadequate resources, and absent or weak support systems, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Online learning, along with its adapted educational models like blended learning and "flipping the classroom," has emerged as an evolving solution to these variables. Young people come from diverse backgrounds and environments, and no student can be expected to successfully learn under a singular methodology. The concept of online learning offers customizable learning options, including educational resolutions that strengthen institutions and empower students to graduate and move forward academically.

In 2013, EducationNext examined the effects of online learning in higher education with its study of interactive learning online (ILO). The study compares blended learning to a traditional course and observes educational outcomes. Keep in mind, although the study focuses on higher education, we're liberally applying the findings about online learning to secondary education as well. EducationNext states "fiscal constraints" and "affordability issues" disrupt higher education communities and yet, "costs are no less a concern in K-12 education." The cost to offer high-quality education is universally high. EducationNext discovered that one significant implication of blended instruction models is its cost savings-online learning curriculums have "the potential to reduce instructor compensation costs quite substantially" and control other costs through smart uses of technology.

Affordability & Accessibility

Students who can't afford to go to high school discard the value of education, and graduation appears to be an out-of-reach attainment. For most at-risk youth, sitting in a classroom prevents them from having a job to earn an income and support their struggling family. The responsibility of family takes priority over an education, and the high school diploma becomes an inconsequential afterthought. Then the challenge of accessibility also becomes a deterrent. What if a student could learn and work at home on a flexible schedule? Blended learning models and virtual educational tools can provide these non-traditional, yet applicable learning experiences for the non-traditional student, especially for students who have left school and returned with a goal in mind.

For example, if a career college partners with a high school completion program built upon an innovative Web-based learning system, the college can cut costs (including costs related to growing enrollment, such as instructor compensation, classroom space, and equipment) by deploying sophisticated educational technologies. ILO systems include "computer-guided instruction, cognitive tutors, embedded feedback loops, and some forms of automated grading," describes EducationNext. Students who graduate high school under this technologically based partnership typically feel confident and encouraged to smoothly transition into higher education with the same college, which also increases enrollment rates for the institution. Cost savings are reciprocal.

Alternative for Nontraditional Learning

For nontraditional students afflicted by personal burdens, online learning is symbolic of opportunity. The flexibility and personalization of a blended learning environment gives students a chance to make a change and better their lives. For many returning students, traditional high school is no longer a realistic option, thus blended learning academic programs serve as an actual attainable alternative. Virtual learning processes and cutting-edge interactive technologies of online learning spaces accommodate the student. Students who are restricted by familial or work responsibilities can study or complete an assignment independently and according to their own schedule.

Penn Foster high school graduate and father George, age 23, believes his independently focused learning experience attributed to his success. The flexibility allowed him to work on his own time and aligned with his own style of learning, which also facilitated ownership and responsibility. A specialized program and online curriculum champions the student to succeed. When students feel like the school and academic professionals are on their side, they feel more motivated and empowered. Improved academic performance naturally follows.

Revolutionized Academic Space

As our society becomes increasingly digitized, technology discernibly influences the educational landscape as well. Sure, online learning and its pedagogical adaptations (e.g., blended learning) receives its criticisms from naysayers. "Blended education," "blended learning" and "flipping the classroom" may trigger debates of educational efficacy among education experts, explains, but "its very existence has challenged them to re-evaluate" technology's overall impact in effective learning processes.

Current research lacks compelling evidence that supports online interactive learning systems as completely trumping traditional systems for directly improving academic performances. But EducationNext highly credits its future potential. Today, online learning trends and Web-based solutions expand and modernize the educational landscape with innovative alternatives. Online learning is progressive. Blended high school completion programs help returning students earn their diploma. Virtual instructors, digital materials, and online testing diversify and enhance the learning experience. Even the MOOC vision pioneers education to be a globally and massively attainable technology-driven learning platform. Online education may still be in its infancy, but it can't be refuted that it's undoubtedly advanced academia and provided profound opportunity with a future of possibility.

What do you think about blended learning? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter. Is blended learning new to you? Share it out and let other people learn about it, too!