Digital Learning: Is It Time to Give Up or Double Down?

Why we need to find the courage and passion to reimagine education through the digital lens.

GUEST COLUMN | by Damian Creamer

Many who have witnessed the growing pains and setbacks of digital learning over the past two decades think we should throw away years of progress and return to the traditional education model.

I say now is not the time to give up. In fact, now is the time to double down.

The reality is, there is no turning back. Instead of pitting traditional and online learning models against each other, we should be working together to integrate the best of both to propel education into the digital age where it belongs.

Online is where today’s digital natives spend most of their time. And while most industries are moving at lightning speed to take advantage of this, our traditional, institutional education system is lagging woefully behind. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as so many aspects of our education model were developed during the Industrial Revolution. While this system served students well in the past, the students of today—not to mention those of tomorrow—live, learn, and engage in entirely new and quickly-changing ways.

The Growing Pains of Online Learning

What most people don’t know is that emerging technologies like digital education go through what research firm Gartner has coined the “hype cycle” that includes five phases:

  • Technology trigger: Education can happen online?!
  • Peak of inflated expectations: Online learning is going to save the world!
  • Trough of disillusionment: Online learning isn’t working, and it never will.
  • Slope of enlightenment: Online learning is viable and valuable, but damn, it’s going to take some hard work.
  • Plateau of productivity: Okay, we’re hunkering down and doing the work.


The good news is that digital education has made it through the trough of disillusionment and is entering the slope of enlightenment. The bad news is that not enough people are willing to invest the time, passion, and funding required to scale it up and move it squarely into the productivity phase.

From Old School to New School

While there are many ways digital learning is already elevating our education model, there are three core areas where it will continue to exponentially improve educational efficacy, efficiency, and engagement:

  • Quality content
  • Real-time data analytics
  • Accessibility

Content is king. It can no longer remain static, cemented in textbooks of the past. Discoveries and changes are being made in every subject area every day. Students need access to cloud-based platforms where continually updated, expertly curated, and research-based content is delivered through formats and mediums that engage. And teachers need access to learning repositories where content is meta-tagged so they can easily pull from it to develop their classes with the coursework they want and require, including formative and summative assessments.

Data is the new gold! For years, educators have been pressured to make data-driven decisions. Access to interactive curriculum and real-time student performance data empowers teachers to provide individualized support exactly when and where students need it most.

Finally, digital learning enables a level of flexibility, personalized support, and accessibility that the traditional brick-and-mortar model alone simply can’t provide. Whether a student is falling behind, has an illness or disability, or is excelling and wants to move ahead in school, a dynamic digital model can meet a diverse range of student abilities, requirements, and preferences.

Rather than making teachers obsolete, the digital elements described above empower them with the content, time, and insights to deliver a truly personalized education and become an effective partner, guide, and inspiration to their students.

The Most Important Investment We’ll Ever Make

“No other investment yields as great a return as the investment in education. An educated workforce is the foundation of every community and the future of every economy.” – Brad Henry

An education that doesn’t incorporate digital learning with continuously evolving content, formats, and data analytics to track and promote student growth will not adequately prepare our students for success in a quickly shifting world. And while edtech innovators are making huge strides, we’re still in the adolescence of the industry and have so far to go.

To continue blazing the trail in digital learning, we must invest a tremendous amount of research, effort, and funding. We must come together and find the passion and courage to continue reimagining and redefining education through the digital lens.


Damian Creamer is an edtech visionary with 20 years of experience in online education. He is founder and CEO of Primavera Online High School, one of the most successful online high schools in the country. He also founded and is CEO of StrongMind, which provides cloud-based digital courseware for grades 6–12 that includes award-winning curriculum, leading-edge assessments, and advanced reporting and analytics. Connect with Damian on LinkedIn.

  • Jeffrey Machado


    I can relate, Damian: My son’s math teacher has shifted her homework format from old-school worksheets to interactive online lessons on Desmos, and the difference in efficacy is amazing. Homework has gone from being tedious at best/traumatic at worst to a downright fun exploration where the material actually sticks. Thanks for a great article!

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