Busting Online Learning Myths

Tom Vander Ark & Carri Schneider
For the last year, we’ve been working with Digital Learning Now! (DLN), a national campaign supported by ExcelinEd, to tackle eight big topics at the intersection of digital learning and the Common Core. Today we released the eighth paper in the DLN Smart Series — “Online Learning: Myths, Reality & Promise.”

The paper brings together regular Smart Series authors from DLN and Getting Smart with co-author Susan Patrick of iNACOL – the leading advocate for online, blended, and competency-based learning.

The Smart Series covers topics such as preparing for online assessments, creating comprehensive student learner profiles, implementing blended learning, improving teaching conditions and careers, and funding the shift to digital learning.  As we’ve released the papers over the last several months, we’ve been surprised to learn that many of the same outdated myths still persist.

Susan Patrick, iNACOL CEO, agrees. “From its advent, online learning has grown because of its potential to increase student access to innovative teachers personalizing learning and individualizing instruction, without the restrictive barriers of place and time,” said Patrick. “Confronting the myths that persist around what online learning is – and isn’t – is key. This paper aims to shed light on the truth versus perception, explores pros and cons, and shifts the focus to the ways educational innovators are delivering on the promise of providing high-quality online learning opportunities that can level the playing field for students around the world, enabling individualized instruction that, until now, has not been possible at scale.”

That’s why we decided to make myth-busting the focus of the final paper in the Smart Series. We wanted to create a resource for school and district leaders who are ready to make the shift to online learning that would equip them with the facts to counter myths they will likely encounter.  The paper, which offers a section on “How To Start An Online Learning Program,” views preparation for confronting myths as an important step in implementation.

The paper walks readers through online learning myths organized into three categories: Myths about Students; Myths about Online Teaching and Learning; and Myths about Systems and Policies. Each myth is countered with evidence from across the field, using resources from the co-authoring organizations as well as trusted resources from the U.S. Department of Education and reports from sector leaders like Keeping Pace.

Students and families benefit from full time access to online learning for many reasons–health, bullying, mobility, and family circumstances. Full time online learning is the best public education option for some families–it’s the only option for some.

Part time access to online learning can provide (where state policy allows) every student access to every Advanced Placement class, upper level math and science classes, and a wide variety of foreign language classes–all taught by expert teachers and very affordable.

Emerging data also makes it clear that online learning works better for some students than others.  The paper recommends better up front counseling on options as well as funding and assessment that support rolling enrollments.

The paper is peppered with student “faces of online learning” sidebars that profile individual students in online learning environments across the country. Reading about real students and real teachers goes a long way toward showing that online learning isn’t about isolated students sitting in front of computer screens all day getting instruction from robots. Rather, online learning is about creating opportunities for quality, personalized learning for all students and empowering teachers and students with access to the teaching and learning environments that work best for them.

For more information, check out the full paper  “Online Learning: Myths, Reality & Promise” and the accompanying infographic “How To Start An Online Learning Program.”  Join John Bailey, Susan Patrick, Carri Schneider and Tom Vander Ark for an iNACOL webinar on Friday, July 12th at 2pm ET/ 11am PT covering online learning myths & implementation. Keep an eye out later this summer for the DLN Smart Series ebook that will contain updated versions of the eight papers in the series bundled into one free, downloadable resource.

Disclosures: Digital Learning Now! is a Getting Smart Advocacy partner. Tom is a director at iNACOL.

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