Pretty good free online K-12 learning options exist in most states, so why aren’t more students learning online? There are more than 2 million students learning online and that’s growing by more than 30% annually, but there are five significant barriers to more rapid adoption:
- Babysitting: Don’t underestimate the custodial aspect of school—it’s nice to have a place to send the kids every day. Homeschooling continues to grow aided by online learning but will never exceed 10% because most folks don’t want their kids around all day every day or just can’t afford to stay home.
- Money & Jobs: At the request of employee groups, the Louisiana state board recently rejected three high quality virtual charter applications. Districts don’t want to lose enrollment revenue and unions don’t want to lose jobs.
- Tradition: Layers of policies stand in the way of learning online starting with seat time requirements—butts in seats for 180 hours with a locally certificated teacher plowing through an adopted textbook.
- Incentives: There are weak incentives to help kids learn more, faster and cheaper. If students graduate early, districts lose money. If taxpayers will pay for schools why not do what we’ve always done?
- Content: Weak incentives extend to content developers. The first generation of online learning is basically textbooks online. Developing engaging and personalized curriculum including games, simulations, and virtual environments is expensive. It’s much more lucrative to build content for the consumer market.
The rapid growth rate indicates that there are several factors fueling the growth of online learning. Here’s a few:
- Choice: Many of the early movers in virtual education served homeschoolers; then it became a public school choice for all or part of the student day.
- Accelerated options: Interest in AP and college level courses continues to grow; increased STEM push will drive online learning especially in rural areas.
- Credit recovery: Personalized and accelerated online options beat the heck out of repeating a class.
- Digital natives: kids have always had the Internet and do everything else online.
- Cost: the big driver going forward will be cost and the ability to incorporate online learning into traditional schools to improve learning, stretch staffing, and leverage facilities.
For great resources about online learning see iNACOL.