The 2019-20 school year in Tennessee started with hundreds of students across the state going back to school virtually. The state’s new online school, the Tennessee Connections Academy, launched recently and is offering K-12 children new options for learning.

Tennessee is not the only state to see a surge in K-12 online learning. Education Week reports that over 3 million K-12 students in the U.S. opt for online classes, and the number is growing every day.

Online higher education is expanding at a rapid rate. More students are accepting the benefits of flexible learning and getting a degree from an accredited institution as they continue to work. Online degree programs have been a practical solution for many to manage time and college debt.

For K-12, however, things have been different, and it is only recently that online learning has become a mainstream concept. The reason for this increasing interest is that the high-quality education offered transcends geographical barriers.

We know how funding and the quality of education differ between school districts. Now, deserving students can get a quality education regardless of their demographic backgrounds.

Another reason for online learning’s rising popularity is the ease with which special needs children can access education in the comfort of their own homes. Not all public schools are equipped to offer them the right kind of support.

Budget cuts have made it harder to hire teachers with these special qualifications. Students can learn at their own pace and still have full-on interaction with their teachers via the digital platform. High school students are looking for more practical career-based learning and do not find those options in traditional education are enrolling as well.

Online learning has been a disruptor, but not all are in favor. Detractors have pointed out that this is similar to homeschooling, and children will never gain the essential social skills they need along with the quality education.

Unlike homeschooling, however, children interact with teachers and are accountable for their work and performance. The digital classroom allows them to interact with classmates, too. For parents who feel the current system is outdated, an online platform offers an innovative solution for their children.

It is, however, not just parents who see the benefit in K-12 online learning. Many school districts and states are partnering with ed-tech companies to offer online learning for their K-12 students and improve educational outcomes.

State-certified teachers in these K-12 online public schools instruct students on state-approved curricula, prepare them for the same state testing system, and help them obtain their high school diploma.

Globally, some regions have put their entire K-12 curriculum online and others are witnessing millions of students enrolling every year.

While K-12 online public schools are witnessing the fastest growth in the U.S., others are not so far behind. Charter schools, programs run by universities, multi-district and single district programs, blended programs, and private schools are implementing online versions of their own.

The U.S. education market will reach approximately $2 trillion by 2026, and online schools will have a hefty market share. Tech companies see this as an opportunity to expand into a new sector and are focused on delivering next-generation technologies that will make the learning experience more productive for teachers and students.

Innovative ideas, like the partnership between online education company K12 Inc. and UPS, are enabling students to start the year strong. With the help of UPS, millions of K-12 students receive about 500,000 customized kits that include laptops, tablets, textbooks, and even science lab supplies like soil, gravel, and sand.

Yes, online learning has been a disruptor for the education system, but for many 21st-century students, it is a welcome change.