Digital divides: K-12 student profiles and online learning


  • Bryan Mann University of Kansas
  • Wei Li University of Florida
  • Kevin Besnoy University of Alabama



K-12 Online Learning, Online Courses, Special Education, Coronavirus, Geography


Online learning for primary and secondary students has expanded significantly in the United States during the last two decades. In addition to the sustained growth of online learning, many schools and districts used online learning to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. As school leaders and policymakers move more students into online courses, they need information about which students succeed and struggle online. We examine the relationship between student traits and academic success in a statewide online learning program. We find that students identified with specific exceptionalities, students who identify as male, students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and students from cities or fringe rural areas were more likely to struggle in their online courses. This information comes at a vital time as school leaders seek to determine the effects of widespread online learning, make decisions about the support students will need after the pandemic ends, and develop the best online learning approaches when in-person schooling returns.


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Author Biographies

Bryan Mann, University of Kansas

Bryan Mann is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Kansas. His research focuses on education policy and geography, specifically on school enrollment patterns as they relate to segregation and diversity, school choice, and alternative models of education.

Wei Li, University of Florida

Wei Li is an assistant professor in the Research and Evaluation Methodology program at the University of Florida. His methodological work involves statistical power analysis for longitudinal experimental designs and multilevel cost-effectiveness studies. His substantive work encompasses research on class size effects, teacher effects, school effectiveness and school improvement, the effectiveness of online learning and teaching, and effects of interim assessment on student achievement.

Kevin Besnoy, University of Alabama

Kevin D. Besnoy has over 20 years of experience teaching K-12 students, preparing pre-service teachers, and teaching graduate level teacher-education students. He has a Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted and Talented, holds a P-12 Certification in Educational Administration, and 7th-12th Social Science Teaching Certificate. His research interests include developing pedagogically sound online learning environments, documenting advocacy experiences of parents of twice-exceptional children, and identifying giftedness among culturally diverse populations. Dr. Besnoy has almost two decades of experience developing, implementing, and evaluating digital and online curricula for K-12 settings. He is currently the director of the University of Alabama’s ACCESS Virtual Learning Support Center. ACCESS is a state of Alabama 7th-12th grade program that serves 27,000 students and employs 1,200 teachers.




How to Cite

Mann, B., Li, W., & Besnoy, K. (2021). Digital divides: K-12 student profiles and online learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 29(August - December).