States are gearing up for the first Digital Learning Day on February 1.

A new report that comes in advance of the first-ever Digital Learning Day argues that digital learning can expand students’ learning opportunities and help schools overcome tough budget situations and boost achievement.

The Digital Learning Imperative: How Teaching and Technology Meet Today’s Educational Challenges, from the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), comes just one month before the first-ever Digital Learning Day on Feb. 1, 2012.

The report outlines three challenges that the U.S. education system faces:

  • U.S. high schools are not improving at a rate that will help all students graduate from college and be ready for careers in a rapidly-changing world. President Obama’s goal, which aims for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020, will not be met unless high school learning improves greatly, the report warns.
  • A struggling economy and strained state and local tax bases leave schools with little hope for increased or new funding, forcing leaders to do more with less and carefully evaluate how resources are used.
  • Many students are without access to highly qualified and skilled teachers, top-notch teaching strategies, or unique and enriching learning experiences, leaving them at a disadvantage.

“To overcome these obstacles, the nation’s education system cannot continue to conduct business as usual,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Applying technological tools [such as] real-time data and assessments, adaptive software, online and digital content from many sources, and constant communication with students, parents, and others involved in a student’s education process, the teacher is able to design the pathway that works best for each student to realize his or her maximum learning potential.”

In the report, digital learning is defined as “any instructional practice that is effectively using technology to strengthen the student learning experience.” Digital learning encompasses a wide range of tools and practices, it says, including using online and formative assessment, online content and courses, adaptive software for students with special needs, learning management platforms, professional communities of practice, and blended learning opportunities.

The report notes that effective ed-tech strategies link the “Three Ts”—teaching, technology, and use of time—with whole-school reform. Faithfully employing all three components together will help schools improve, it argues.

For Digital Learning Day, AEE will broadcast a virtual town hall meeting from Washington, D.C., and will link up with four to six satellite locations. Twenty-five partners, including national education organizations and stakeholder groups, have pledged support.