How the US Will Blend

Blended Learning
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Here’s a back of the envelope calculation on how U.S. education will adopt online and blended learning strategies over the next 10 years.
Home schooling will double to more than 3m students.
Virtual schools (mostly charter) will see full time enrollments climb to 1.5m. With home education, that’s almost 5m kids educated at home, or nearly 10%.
New blended schools, mostly charters, will serve more than 1m kids.  A couple chains like Rocketship will serve a couple hundred thousand kids.
Existing charter networks will adopt blended models and serve more than 2m kids (maybe 2.5).
The number of public school students that blend their own learning by taking an online class where available (including credit recovery) will grow from 1.5m to 5m.  That assumes that the handful of states that don’t have statewide programs get on board and that options improve for most students.
Here’s the big growth category: about 24,000 public schools serving 17m students will adopt blended models. (wow, is that even conceivable?)
By 2020, there will still be more than 20m kids in traditional paper & pencil public schools.
Here’s the table version.  Where am I off?

Schools (enrollment, millions) 2010 2020
Home school 1.5 3.0 Easier to consider
Virtual schools (full time) 0.3 1.5 5m learning at home
New blended schools 0.1 1.0 Rocketship etc
Charter conversions 0.1 2.0 Most CMOs
Part time online FTE 1.5 5.0 State virtuals
District blends 0.1 17.0 Big growth category
Traditional elementary 33.5 18.0
Traditional HS 13.0 5.0 A dying breed
Total 51.0 52.5
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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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Roxy Mourant

I can't wait to hear more at the SETDA meetings in D.C. this week. In Alaska, we're just getting started with our 'digital environment' to enable all Alaskans (from ages 5-95) to access free resources in one 'facebook-friendly' site. I see why charter schools probably have a better advantage, but I believe we're ready, in Alaska, to take that quantum leap!

Cameron Evans

Interesting Idea, Tom.
The demographics and socioeconomic status of these students is what interests me. The students that didn't get a great education over the last 10-20 years will be the parents of the school age children in your hypothetical model. Even if we gave Internet access away for free and connected all devices to the Cloud, I'm not fully persuauded that the learning model will be better without an engaged parent and a network of teachers.
With that said, it doesn't mean that the growth in blended and online learning won't happen. However, I believe the students that need it the most will get the least benefit.

Cameron Evans

this is an interesting, hypothesis, Tom.
The gradudates (or lack thereof) over the last 10-20 years will be the parents of the school age children in your scenario. I would love to hear more about the perceive demographics of students in your hypothesis.
I believe that the students who will need the option of blended and online learning the most will be least positioned to take advantage of it in 2020, unless something changes today.


Tom Vander Ark

Cameron, thanks for your comment. I think kids that need it most will benefit most from blended learning. Most well supported kids do ok today and there's no question that it helps if there is an adult at home and one at school that care if a student goes to school and how they are doing.
The real social benefit is if we can build tools that will promote vocabulary of toddlers in low income families and use engaging content to build persistence of young people not motivated/supported by a father who will kick butt if they don't do homework.
The cultural press for academic success is strong bottom to top of the pyramid in India, but it seems inconsistent in the US. In some respects, we're trying to build schools to make up for that.

Ed Jones

Tom, Perhaps we're being too pessimistic to think that 5 million students won't be benefiting at all from your rather liberal definition of 'blended learning'?
75% of students already own a cell phone; by 2020 most of those should have Android on them (even if they're not paying for the 3G network?). Plus iPad-like devices should cost less than 1-2 textbooks.
Also, rather than the huge increase in homeschooling, I;d be thinking one room school houses. Which may be a variant on the Sylvan centers in every mall. Maybe these will be "home-schooled" as legal status, but be more of a group thing than just a single-family thing.
Also, have you maybe left out the nation's private/parochial schools? 5-9 million kids seem to be missing?
Very thoughtful way of quantifying/solidifying a view to the future.


Tom Vander Ark

You're right, most kids are online already somewhere outside of schools.
My chart did exclude private school kids.

Michael B. Horn

Tom -- Great post. Just thought I'd chime in on the question of whether this will serve the most well off or the least well off as well and echo your point. There certainly will be well-off families that grab this and run to accelerate their children, but this will also have huge benefits to those who historically couldn't get access to great programs and teachers as it makes great learning opportunities far more accessible to many more people. Secondly, your other point in your comment is the blockbuster one -- "if we can build tools that will promote vocabulary of toddlers in low income families and use engaging content to build persistence of young people not motivated/supported by a father who will kick butt if they don’t do homework."

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