John Watson on the Promise of Online Learning

This episode of the Getting Smart Podcast is sponsored by Screencastify.

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, Tom Vander Ark is joined by John Watson, founder of Evergreen Education Group. John is the leading expert on online learning. He recently hosted the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC).

Let’s listen in as Tom and John discuss the promise of online learning, how it is different from remote learning and how educators and districts can better use online learning to serve their learners.

The full-time enrollment in virtual schools in America pre-pandemic was 400k+ online students. As you can expect, this number will vary greatly in the years to come, and John Watson says that we are currently gathering data for what virtual schooling numbers were during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, millions, and untold millions more, were taking at least one credit hour or using additional supplemental resources to learn online.

One of the most significant changes was the addition of video — but it’s important to remember that there is a “distinction between emergency remote learning and online learning.” According to John, this year the importance of SEL really came to the fore, but in the years to come there will be massive opportunities in PBL in virtual schooling environments.

John and Tom also discussed the rise of pods and tools like Prenda. “I think that’s the key question: are we going to see replicable models that the pods can tap into? Will they be able to provide a low enough cost high enough quality alternative to pods? What’s the relationship between pod provider and school?”

Both Tom and John agree that many states are making unfortunate policy decisions about virtual learning and choosing to opt out or not offer it at all in the future. “It’s a terrible idea and I feel like it is based on this really fundamental misconception and that misconception is the conflating of emergency remote learning with online learning. Also conflating the idea that a lot of students struggled during the pandemic … online learning was never meant for everybody.”

John believes that next year “everybody should have a full-time onsite option, but there’s no question that every student should have online blended option as well.”

“Online has been a niche for 25 years now — examples of really good online learning exist. We’ve seen the emergence of a lot of online hybrid schools.” John took a moment to call out the people at the recent DLAC conference who said “I didnt know this was going on!” One attendee even said “Coming to DLAC I thought I was diving into an olympic sized swimming pool, after being there for three days I realized it’s more like the Pacific Ocean. So much opportunity, so much to learn.”

“Im not interested in the next interesting technology. I’m interested in the next district state or system that catches up to use the technology.”

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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