Susan Patrick
Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, discusses the future of virtual learning.

Students’ extensive use of texting and internet access during class is often seen as disruptive to learning. Many experts, however, see new technology as a promising way to improve education. On Sept. 16, the Mackinac Center held an Issues & Ideas forum to explore the potential of “virtual learning” to revolutionize the way students learn. This well-attended event demonstrates that there’s a growing desire in Michigan to find better ways to expand learning opportunities and reduce school costs.

Virtual learning includes computer-based instructional software, online lectures accessed remotely or another medium delivered over the Internet.

The Mackinac Center event featured two of the nation’s leading experts on virtual learning: Michael B. Horn and Susan Patrick. Horn is the co-founder and executive director of Innosight Institute and co-author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,” one of the most influential books on online learning. Patrick is the president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning and former director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. Both speakers shared their insights into how Michigan could take full advantage of new technologies to enhance education.

About 55 people attended the event in Lansing. The make-up of the crowd reflected virtual learning’s wide appeal: There were school teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and representatives from both for-profit and nonprofit companies. Appropriately, the event was also streamed live online, where another 120 people tuned in. The archived video of the forum is available at

This event was part of the Mackinac Center’s effort to examine the possibilities for virtual schooling in Michigan. Michael Van Beek, the Center’s education policy director, will soon release a study documenting current online learning opportunities in Michigan and suggest ways the state can unlock the full potential of virtual schooling.