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Earlier this year, the annual Sloan/Babson survey tracking online education in the United States revealed that 7.1 million college students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2013. That’s nearly 35 percent of all college students and an increase of just over 400,000 from the previous year. If the current online enrollment growth rate of 6.1 percent holds steady, half of all college students will be enrolled in an online course by 2020.

What does this mean in the big picture? It means that in order for high school graduates to be prepared fully for success in college in the 21st century, it would be beneficial for them to have gained experience with online learning while in primary or secondary school. This experience will ensure they are familiar and comfortable with the subtle differences between online and in-class learning.

At a time when only 26 percent of high school graduates taking the ACT tests are ready for entry-level college courses in English, reading, math and science, according to ACT’s annual report, “The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014,” isn’t it on us, as educators, to provide students with as many resources and experiences as possible to promote success within our classrooms and beyond?

I’m not recommending that all younger students shift exclusively to virtual learning. Rather, I’m simply advocating for introducing all students — whether it be at traditional public schools or at public blended (online/on-site) learning schools, like Nexus Academy of Royal Oak, where I serve as principal — to online learning activities so that they know what to expect when they arrive on college campus.

It’s no secret that we live in a digital world. With each passing day, we rely more heavily on technology in every aspect of our lives, including and especially at work, as professional development and other critical daily work functions take place online. As such, engaging our children in online learning activities will help prepare them not only for success in college, but with the skills many will need in their profession.

While the number of online learners continues to grow substantially each year, virtual learning still hasn’t been embraced universally. However, with the millennial generation having children of their own, it’s only a matter of time before it is fully embraced, as no previous generation has had greater access to computers and the Internet. As a result, today’s children are growing up playing with and learning from tablets and smartphones.

Why delay the inevitable? Let’s utilize the tools our children are using in their daily lives to engage them in learning activities that will promote life-long learning and success at every step of the way.

Dale Bernard is principal at Nexus Academy of Royal Oak, a public blended high school.

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