Is online learning for all students? University of Florida suggests the answer is yes.

A series of Keeping Pace blog posts recently explored whether online learning is appropriate for all students, and then, after an email conversation with Joe Freidhoff, Executive Director of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI), whether online learning should be for all students. Joe argued that online learning should be available to all students, and that educators and policymakers should fund online programs at a level that will make all students successful. A main part of his argument was that “Close to 95% of four year public colleges and universities offered distance education programs in 2013, and over 5 million college students took distance education courses that year.” Recent news out of the University of Florida (as reported by the Washington Post) supports Joe’s point and gives another, even stronger, example:

“Some 3,100 students accepted as freshman by the University of Florida for the fall got a big surprise along with their congratulations notices: They were told that the acceptance was contingent on their agreement to spend their first year taking classes online as part of a new program designed to attract more freshmen to the flagship public university.

The 3,118 applicants accepted this way to the university — above and beyond the approximately 12,000 students offered traditional freshman slots — did not apply to the online program. Nor were they told that there was a chance that they would be accepted with the online caveat. They wound up as part of an admissions experiment.”

The “experiment” is meant to determine how many students will accept this option, which entails an unusual path to a degree from the state’s flagship university. The university doesn’t believe the online option will be a good fit for all students, and expects that only a small percentage will accept. But even in acknowledging that online might not be a good option for all college students, the existence of this program bolsters Joe Freidhoff’s argument that online learning should be made available—and perhaps even required—for all high school students for at least two reasons. First, if you’re a student who just got the letter from the University of Florida saying you are being given the option of taking courses online, wouldn’t you be far better positioned to make that decision if you’ve already had the experience of taking a course online? Second, wouldn’t students who have taken online courses in high school be better positioned to succeed in online college courses?