“Families who choose online education for their children want the exact same thing that any parent wants – the best education for their kids – they are just choosing a different way to get it.” – USA

“As someone who embraces social media and understands its benefits, it is very hard for me to grasp the concept of those in education not embracing it,” says Stephanie Hoaglund.
Hoaglund is the director of social media at K¹², America’s largest provider of online education for grades K through 12. Their mission is to “fulfill the promise of education for every child.”

Hoaglund, a parent of two and a popular blogger in her own right (she started blogging after her husband’s cancer diagnosis), has seen education from the traditional “brick and mortar” perspective and the newer, online approach. She is passionate about the use of social media in education.  “It’s powerful and if used correctly, can make a huge impact on students, parents, admins and anyone else!” she says.  “There is nothing complicated — it’s just a different way to hold a conversation with someone, to connect with them, to enlighten them.”  She leads the K12 corporate blog, thinktanK12, their Facebook page, YouTube presence and Twitter feed.

Today, she provides insight on why she believes in online education – for any child – and where she believes innovative learning truly begins (hint: it’s not in a classroom!).

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

According to an Ambient Insight report, “more than 10 million students will participate in some amount of online supplemental instruction by 2015, up from 2010 levels of 2.9 million, for a compound annual growth rate of 28 percent. More dramatic growth will be seen in online charter schools and virtual schools.”

Even with dramatic growth projected in the next few years, the concept of online education is still a relatively new one to many families looking for alternatives to traditional brick and mortar schools.

Online schooling allows parents the opportunity to take on a more active role day to day in their children’s education.  And families who choose online education for their children want the exact same thing that any parent wants – the best education for their kids – they are just choosing a different way to get it.   

By using social media and technology to develop innovative community and digital programs, I am able to share information and stories about the benefits of online education and help dispel commonly held misconceptions about the reasons families choose it.

I also use social media to create ways to connect parents, students and schools in real-time and cultivate active, engaged, and vibrant online communities. These communities allow
passionate families to develop real relationships and offer one another support as they continue on with their education year after year.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

We know, based on research, that a one-size-fits-all educational approach simply does not work. Many children are not getting the individually focused and flexible learning they need in a traditional classroom. Technology is helping change education by allowing for more customizable options for students who, for many different reasons, are struggling in a traditional classroom environment.  By sharing their stories and information and coming up with innovative ways to connect them and their community, more and more families are finding out that online education is a viable solution to their child’s individualized needs.

For some families, making the choice to enroll in an online school can be daunting and isolating.

To help make it less so, I use social media to create opportunities for families to learn about online education, to meet and connect with others who are also learning to live the “online education lifestyle”, and to enhance their overall knowledge about all things affecting their educational life (i.e. research, parenting trends, and technology). In turn, they begin to feel more comfortable with the idea of online education in general, but more importantly, they become more confident with their choice.

The content shared on our various social media channels is specifically programmed to create real opportunities for families to learn about our company, learn about online education, discuss topics that relate to their everyday lives, share success stories, and even struggles.  It’s designed to be a conversation – between us all- parents, teachers, members of the community; all wanting our kids to have the best chance for success.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Slow and steady wins the race. Coming up with digital and social programs within the K-12 educational space that account for student restrictions and policies can be challenging. The use of social media has to be well thought out, deliberate and weighed against community safety concerns, public policy and reputational risk before being rolled out.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Implementing tools that manage social listening, blogging, and that help facilitate one-to-one communication are key in creating engaged communities and staying current about the latest trends and news within the educational community.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social applications that encourage a sharing of ideas and experiences have also helped our communities thrive.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Last year, during my seven-year-old son’s first grade conference, his teacher shared some
concerns with me. She said, “Because of class sizes and budget cuts, public school students are required to fit within a box. Any child that falls outside of that box has a harder time succeeding.”

She could be talking about so many children out there — gifted kids, kids with learning
disabilities, mental disabilities, bullying issues, home issues, or those ‘outside of the box’ thinkers that may require a different approach to learning than what is available at brick and mortar schools. Each one of these kids could fall into this “outside of the box” category.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

More support and funding are needed to really drive change of the traditional methods being used today that are no longer meeting the needs of the students.  Rally behind efforts that foster innovation, incorporate technology to engage students and offer individualized educational options.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Recognizing that by applying today’s technology to current learning strategies, newer, more effective learning environments can be created that are individualized and flexible enough to meet the needs of many “outside of the box” students.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

It starts at home! Parents need to insist on having a stronger voice in their community’s education strategy and be given an opportunity to decide which educational approach to choose based on their own child’s individual learning needs.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

I am obviously a big proponent of online learning as an option to all students. It’s such an exciting time for it based on the technology available. Creating innovative lessons using adaptive technology, the ability to update based on the student’s performance as they are learning a lesson, developing more engaging curriculum, and designing more collaborative learning environments are all projects currently underway and will soon be commonplace to online students worldwide. 

It’s almost impossible to predict the immense impact technology will have on education in the next decade!

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Every child should have access to a computer with Internet access.  Learning can be one of the most powerful tools in the world. The more you know the better you get along in the world. Access to online schools, online newspapers, and virtual field trips are just a few
examples of opportunities made available via a computer and a click of a mouse!

About Stephanie Hoaglund
Director of Social Media, K12 Inc.

Birthplace: Corpus Christie, Texas, USA – but I grew up in Northern New Jersey
Current residence: Northern Virginia, USA
Education: B.A. from University of Arizona
Website I check every day: New York Times
Person who inspires me most: Kids–from babies to teens. I love how the younger generation sees the world – with endless possibilities and fresh perspectives.
Favorite childhood memory: Circle time in Kindergarten. It was a time where we shared and learned from one another – collaboration at its best. We were engaged and having fun. I remember how we all had a spot on this big chart and when we learned certain milestones, like tying shoes or zipping up a jacket, it was announced and we were given a big gold star! It was an awesome feeling!
Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  I just got back from one of my favorite cities, San Francisco, to celebrate my brother’s wedding.  My entire family attended – which is a rare occurrence.
When was the last time you laughed? Why?  I laugh every day thanks to my two young kids.  But, really does there need to be a good reason to laugh?
Favorite book: The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
Favorite music: R & B, Pop, Classic Rock – I like an eclectic mix of music
Your favorite quote or motto: I have three quotes that I find strength in on a regular basis:

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi

“We read to know we aren’t alone.” –  C.S. Lewis

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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