More Online Learning, NOW!

More online learning, now! In a new report, Alliance for Excellent Education suggests that online learning can help solve the skill gap, the funding gap, and the teacher gap.
Since leaving office five years ago former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise has been the leading federal policy advocate for high school success.  Now the Governor is on fire about the potential to learn online.  Here are a couple quotes from his report:

Crisis #1: Skill Gap. Given the President’s goal to be first in the world in college graduation, “it will virtually impossible to reach [the goal] without dramatic changes in how our nation educates its students.”

Crisis #2: Funding Gap. “The Great Recession of 2008–09 has closed off the possibility of spending increases for education.” An NGA report says, “The bottom line is that states will not fully recover from this recession until late in the decade”

Crisis #3: Teacher Gap: “There simply are not enough highly skilled teachers in the schools and challenged classrooms that need them the most.” And, “The challenge is particularly evident in rural schools, which enroll about 23 percent of students in U.S. schools.”

The Governor suggests that these three colliding forces require us to rethink the delivery of public education and begin to more aggressively incorporate online learning.
The report quotes a Department of Education report that concludes, “In recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective.”  The report points to the benefits of engaging content including simulations and virtual environments; motivational aspects of technology; self-paced learning; and expanded application opportunities.
I think Wise is right.  I’m confident that at least half of all US high school students will be doing at least half of their work online by the end of the decade.  Here’s how it will happen:

  1. Virtual learning (a combination of home schooling and virtual charter schools), will more than double in enrollment with more than 3 million students (more than 500,000 will be high school students).
  2. New blended school models that incorporate online learning will enroll 500,000 students. Virtual operators will open brink-n-click schools; new blended charter networks will spring up; existing charter networks will go blended; blended dropout prevention networks will thrive; and districts will turn to blended school operators to support improvement efforts.
  3. Low cost private schools will serve at least 100,000 students with very high quality offerings at less than half of the cost of brand name schools.
  4. Public school districts will adopt online learning for credit recovery, foreign language, and advanced math and sciences courses.  About 4 million high school students will benefit from the incorporation of online learning.
  5. Outside formal education, most students will at least experiment with informal online learning games, tutoring, and test prep sites.

First generation offerings online today often provide even more teacher interaction than a traditional classroom.  As digital content becomes more sophisticated and individualized, it will be increasingly possible for schools to adopt a tiered staffing model that leverages the talent of well-paid master teachers across a larger group of students.
Online learning provides students the opportunity to learn more, faster, and cheaper.  It will slowly and in a variety of ways be incorporated into how we education students in the US.  It will be adopted even more quickly in part of the world not weighed down with a legacy system (e.g., skipping copper and jumping to cellular).
Having the weight of traditional advocacy groups like AEE join the International Association of K-12 Online Learning (where I’m chair-elect) and Innosight (home of Disrupting Class co-author Michael Horn) puts the online learning petal to the metal.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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