Online and blended learning options provide millions of students with the opportunity to learn from the best teachers available regardless of geography, using engaging digital tools and resources that allow educators to teach — and kids to learn — along a customizable learning path. Online learning is not for every student — or teacher — but it is a powerful way to expand educational options for students who need flexibility and a more competency-based, student-centered learning environment.

Education is perhaps the most important civil rights concern in the United States today. The academic equity and excellence we seek, however, will come only when we offer students a broad selection of learning environments and allow them to identify the proper solution for their individual learning styles and interests. The digital world is here and technology literacy skills are going to be a valuable part of the 21st century skill set students need for success, along with critical thinking, problem solving and communication — both working in groups and as part of virtual teams. These tools are essential in order for our students to become globally-competitive, and college and career-ready.

Some students require the structure of face-to-face instruction found within a traditional school environment. Others thrive by moving at their own pace where their rate of learning is free to flow as their abilities allow, with the guidance of a teacher, learning online. Still others find success in a blended learning system, bringing together the strengths of face-to-face teaching, online content, digital tools and collaboration.

The achievement we hope for our students — and the skills a global society demands — must be at the heart of each and every education discussion. The future of education will require learning beyond textbooks. Online learning provides great teachers the ability to customize instruction through expanded educational opportunities, regardless of a student’s zip code.

Susan Patrick is the president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning in Vienna, Va.