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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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March062007

Study Examines the Proliferation of Online Courses

A new report suggests that the number of K-12 students enrolled in online courses has risen dramatically in recent years. If the trend continues, researchers suggest that millions of K-12 students may soon be participating in virtual classrooms.

The Sloan Consortium, a national alliance of educational institutions exploring the role of online learning, commissioned a survey of K-12 school districts to tabulate just how many of them have students currently enrolled in online courses. While similar studies are prevalent in higher education, similar research was lacking in K-12, as they explain in the report’s introduction:

The research literature on online learning has grown significantly in the past decade. Many studies have been published that examine the extent, nature, policies, learning outcomes, and other issues associated with online instruction. While much of this literature focuses specifically on postsecondary education with approximately three million students presently enrolled in fully online courses, not as much has been published about students enrolled in fully online and blended courses in primary and secondary schools. This is one of the first studies to collect data on and to compare fully online and blended learning in K-12 schools. The purpose of this study was to explore the nature of online learning in K–12 schools and to establish base data for more extensive future studies. Issues related to planning, operational difficulties, and online learning providers were also examined. This study does not necessarily answer all of the issues raised but hopefully will promote further discussion and study of them.

The researchers surveyed more than 350 school districts representing 44 states. When surveying these districts, they asked questions on two types of online courses. First, there were those courses that were “fully online” - in other words, where most or all of the content is delivered online, with at least 80% of traditional in-class seat time replaced by online activities. They also looked at what they called blended, or hybrid courses, which meld together face-to-face educational delivery with a substantial amount of online activities.

According to the report, approximately two-thirds of responding school districts offered some form of online course, either fully online or blended. Fully online courses were more common, with 57.9% of the districts surveyed having one or more students enrolled, while a smaller percentage of districts - 32.4% of them - had at least one student enrolled in a blended course. Similarly, three out of five districts surveyed expected their online enrollments to grow, with a slight edge given to blended courses, as educators become more comfortable developing this type of curriculum.

Among those districts participating in the survey, more than 17,000 students were enrolled in fully online courses, while an additional 11,000 students participated in blended courses. Based on these numbers, the researchers estimate that approximately 700,000 K-12 students are enrolled in online courses, up from less than 50,000 students in 2001. However, they also surmise that the number is much higher when you take into account private schools and home-schooled students. Nonetheless, they expect the number of K-12 students in online courses to rise to several million within the next five years, based on a similar growth curve already witnessed in higher education.

In their conclusion, the researchers expect these trends to continue, with more districts following the lead of rural schools, many of which served as early adopters of online courses due to their relative geographic isolation. Similarly, they predict a growing number of schools will embrace the blended model of online courses.

If K–12 follows the pattern of enrollment growth in higher education, it is quite possible that online learning will emerge as a substantial component in K–12 schools, especially at the secondary level. In examining this potential, small rural schools may be providing important experiences for school districts in other localities, especially those that are facing severe teacher shortages. It is also possible that the blended model may prove to be attractive to K–12 schools, especially those that are struggling with issues of online learning quality, student readiness, and teacher professional development. Finally, online learning is not one thing but comes in various shapes and sizes.

Do these numbers track with your own experiences? Has your district embraced online courses? Why or why not? -andy

Filed under : Research

Responses

I see online learning as a significant part of the future for everyone who wants to learn, teach, and study this phenomenon. This will impact both the EDUCATIONAL and BUSINESS FIELDS

I am a parent who has two middle grade students gr 6 and 7 enrolled in an online public virtual school. the restrictions I have encountered is the school contracting did test for scholastic placement, but did not listen to us very well. The Supplier of curricula is K-12.com and I do not know of the range of materials or authors that they provide. K-12 does not update their homepage. the material requires said student to go online & offline multiple times per subject each day. This frustrates my kids. Not knowing the curricula range frustrates them also which prevents us from negiogiating a better text for their needs. With no review on quality comparison of Primary and Secondary Online Ed Programs we are still learning to research, compare and evaluate curricula for our own needs. the contracting school demands DSL from the family enrolled and demanded I sit next to my kids as they did each subject individually contradicting a statement they made to me to be available when my kids studied. I act as teachers aid and many other teachers duties are done by me. NO EMERGENCY ALTERNATIVE TEACHER CERTIFICATION IS OFFERED. Then I am reduced to a “Learning Coach” by the Public Virtual School Staff as I must teach exactly as I am (mentored) told & am demanded to make my children available to the Public Virtual School all the time. We are required to sacrifice our privacy. My kids learn online due to the myraid of problems created by ED Indrusty itself within brick & morter public schools. I want my kids to be online ed savvy as I think this method holds much promise for society as a whole. I think business can benefit greatly, but there must be a measure of quality comparison when a resume’ list this as part of work/ed skills or when a business wants to offer ed related skill improvement to their workers.

Hi, Brenda —
It sounds to me like you are having an awful time with K-12.com . I have had no experience with them myself, but your piece was pretty vivid! I am wondering if the contract that your local school district is paying K-12.com for might be on the cheap side, thus accounting for the dearth of services. But, maybe you are in a private agreement, which changes things and could give you more leverage.

I teach HS English in NYC, and I have written and taught an online curriculum that was designed and implemented as a self-directed independent study. (Independent Study classes are one type among many features we offer which draw students to enroll with us when they may otherwise who may otherwise have given up on school back at their last school. The overage and undercredited are our target base of enrollment.

Now that more students have online access at home, I find that more students are interested in online courses.

Check out the virtual high school, the concord high school, michigan’s plan to require ALL students to be exposed to at least one online course, and florida, which has built its own online system. Many states have. You may be amazed.

Good luck!

I’m a student in university who is taking a class called child and technology. I’ve never really been a fan of computers and the internet, but now know how beneficial it is for the future of our children. I’ve learned that it’s not just a means to acquire information but is also a way to share information, and learn from others who share similar interest or who have different perspectives. As a result, this course has given me the ability to obtain rich resources any time and any place. E-learning compliments our fast pacing society. I have a wider range of learning skills attributed to this course and I hope to see more e-learning courses offered in the future.

The book that was written by my professor was an important resource. The book provided links, and exercises to help further my understanding. These links and exercises provided me with a visual and this help retain the information much quicker. If anyone is looking for an additional resource, this book is perfect if anyone wants to explore concepts and practice to e-learning. Check it out its really fun!

http://www.sagepub.co.uk/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book227967

http://www.brynholmes.com/

I’m a student in university who is taking a class called child and technology. I’ve never really been a fan of computers and the internet, but now know how beneficial it is for the future of our children. I’ve learned that it’s not just a means to acquire information but is also a way to share information, and learn from others who share similar interest or who have different perspectives. As a result, this course has given me the ability to obtain rich resources any time and any place. E-learning compliments our fast pacing society. I have a wider range of learning skills attributed to this course and I hope to see more e-learning courses offered in the future.

The book that was written by my professor was an important resource. The book provided links, and exercises to help further my understanding. These links and exercises provided me with a visual and this help retain the information much quicker. If anyone is looking for an additional resource, this book is perfect if anyone wants to explore concepts and practice to e-learning. Check it out its really fun!

Holmes, B. & Gardner, J. (2006). e-learning: Concepts and Practice. London:

http://www.sagepub.co.uk/booksProdDesc.nav?prodId=Book227967

http://www.brynholmes.com/

Andy - In our service area (I work at a regional education service agency), we have a mixed bag of responses to eLearning by the 42 separate districts. Some of them have embraced it fully, and have 100s of students enrolled. One district in particular allows students to schedule open time to complete their online coursework during the school day. Other districts are considering requiring every student to complete at least one online course before graduation from HS. Some of our districts have teachers creating extensions to the coursework offered during the school day through CMSs like Moodle and BlackBoard.
Some districts have offered online courses only to the gifted population, and a good number of them have not really moved ahead on the issue at all, most likely waiting for more evidence from schools that are doing it already that there is some benefit to it.
One question that comes to mind is what the completion rate is for most students - in my research of eLearning in the workplace, there is a 25% completion rate. Some businesses are going back to face-to-face training in reaction. I think they are missing the point - not everyone is successful with eLearning. At least, that is, with eLearning consisting of a transfer of words from paper to computer monitor. Just as teachers are realizing the importance of differentiated instruction in the classroom, eLearning developers are going to have to begin to create courses with multiple learning options. I think a lot of people don’t complete a course because they get so bored with click-throughs (kind of a modified PowerPoint) or straight text. With Flash and other low-bandwidth media delivery systems, there is no reason not to expect a media-rich eLearning experience.
One other thought I have is that schools will have to incorporate eLearning into their offerings to remain relevant. Some kids really want to explore subjects in depth, others are being pushed by their parents to accelerate their learning, and some may find their school’s curriculum a bit too confining. Making eLearning available may hook a kid into staying in school - especially if schools look to the blended model. Much will need to change, including the mindset of all involved into what constitutes “school.” Does it mean that some students could stay home 2 or 3 days a week, studying their online courses at home (where they have much higher bandwidth than school), and then go to school on the other days for face-to-face instruction and discussion groups for their eLearning work?
I think it’s exciting to consider how eLearning might impact the structure of school, since the key research shows that it’s not the teachers or students who need to change as much as it is the model of school we have been following for 200+ years.

I am currently pursuing my teaching certificate through all online courses. Being a full time mother, I have no choice but to enroll in classes online for I cannot commute an hour everyday to the nearest university. I am grateful to have this opportunity to study online but I must admit it isn’t the same. The dynamic provided by live “in person” class time is unrivaled by any comments posted on a course’s discussion board.
Offering online course work for children is an excellent option for the student that can learn through that medium. Being able to have an in depth examination of certian topics and moving at one’s own pace provides students the ability to be independent learners. Unfortunatley, online classes cannot meet all the diverse needs of today’s public school classroom without serious modifications and intensive monitoring by the teacher. With all the different learning environments that are required, it is probable that the teacher would have a different plan of study for each student.

I am currently working on my dissertation and I am focusing on this transition of K-12 online learning. I have a very simple question. We now have one state that requires K-12 students to take a fully online class before graduation. Do we have any teacher education programs that also have that same requirement for new teachers before they graduate?

I can find all the wonderful data on the need to renew teacher education programs but the research seems to be lacking information on how we are providing new teachers with the tools to create quality online courses and an understanding of how online course work from an instructional design prespective.

Comments are welcomed and needed.

Chris Widdall

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