Online and blended learning are being embraced by many schools and states, as discussed in Evergreen’s recent reports, commissioned by the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, titled “Why do students choose blended and online schools” and Teaching with Technology: Educators’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Successful Blended Instructional Strategies. Despite the growth of online and blended learning, and even though digital learning has been offered in schools for decades, several myths surrounding its benefits and challenges persist. Most of these myths are understood as being incorrect by educators experienced with digital learning, but the myths persist in the media, and among both advocates and critics. This post attempts to dispel six of the most common misconceptions, adding a dose of reality to each. Read on to see if you’ve heard (or have bought into) any of the following ideas, or feel free to share your own in the comments section below.
For those of us who have been in the K-12 digital learning field for a while, it’s especially useful to get out of the bubble and hear what others think about online and blended learning. Reports from the Brooking Institution are especially valuable because Brookings is centrist, non-partisan, and evidence-based. Although the recent study Online schooling: Who is harmed and who is helped? reviewed literature mostly about post-secondary education, it makes a particularly valuable distinction in the K-12 realm that should be required reading for people who believe that research should drive all policy.
An earlier post reported on the discussion over on the e-Literate blog (LINK) regarding ways in which a US Department of Education audit of Western Governors University showed the auditors to be hyper-focused on an overly literal interpretation of rules, at the expense of a university’s innovative practices.
When we began working on our first Keeping Pace report back in 2004, our focus was on exploring the ways in which existing policy and accountability systems in K-12 education were not keeping up with online learning. State funding and accountability mechanisms were out of tune with new schools, creating instances in which good innovative schools were hindered, and other cases in which schools took advantage of loopholes and grey areas in education policy to game the system.
During the 2015-16 school year, about 21% of public schools in the United States offered at least one course entirely online.
Far more high schools (58%) offered online courses than did middle schools (13%) or elementary schools (3%).
A higher percentage of charter schools than traditional public schools offered online courses (29% to 20%).
About 45% of very small schools with fewer than 100 students offered online courses, as did a very similar percentage of large schools (enrolling 1,000 students or more). Schools with between 200 and 1,000 students all had lower rates of offering online courses, at about 15%.
A main goal of our Teaching with Technology study was to ensure that the authentic voices of teachers came through clearly and accurately. We compiled nearly 2,000 text responses to open-ended survey questions, and spoke with just over 50 teachers and administrators. Their stories give life to the promise, successes, and challenges of implementing technology in the classroom.
Among the main findings from our Teaching with Technology report is that teachers are most successful when they have time to become comfortable with new instructional strategies, and have the backing of their school in terms of providing professional development and other supports.
The argument for using those terms was that the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, which commissioned the study, is explicitly interested in blended learning and the most innovative uses of technology in education.
For our study, Teaching with Technology: Educators’ perspectives and recommendations for successful blended instructional strategies, we surveyed 664 teachers and spoke with more than 50 teachers and administrators, in focus groups at schools, at conferences, and by phone. Teachers represented a range of grade levels and subjects taught, and most were from traditional public schools.
We’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging recently—for about the past 15 months in fact. With this post and with the launch of our revised website, we are ending our blogging hiatus. Our plan is to post once per week, and occasionally more often, to help spread news items of interest, comment on developments in the field and new reports, and share our own research and findings.
In Keeping Pace 2015 we wrote extensively about state virtual schools, in particular noting some of the new directions that state virtual schools are taking as they face increasing competition from other providers and from districts developing their own online content. This past week we met with a group of state virtual schools that are part of the Virtual School Leadership Alliance, and found that they continue to grow and evolve. Keeping Pace characterizes state virtual schools as operational intermediate supplier organizations that provide online learning programs to schools statewide.
Among the reasons that schools, students, and parents are interested in online courses is that they believe that the use of online learning is growing in colleges, and they want high school graduates to be well prepared for post-secondary learning. Therefore, tracking recent developments in online learning at the post-secondary level is valuable for people primarily interested in K-12 education, and fortunately several good sources of information exist, including WCET, the Babson Survey Research Group, Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein at E-Literate, and the federal government. The WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016 analyzes fall 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). It counts students in two categories: those who are exclusively in distance education, and students who are mixing distance learning and on-campus courses. A third category, “at least one distance education course,” combines the two categories.
The last post, “We grew the blended program by solving one problem at a time,” explored the ways in which two successful blended programs in Oregon had grown. As the title suggested, those programs, Bend La Pine and Crater Lake, focused on challenges faced by students or schools, addressed those challenges, and moved on to the next. I had spoken with Tres Tyvand of Bend La Pine to make sure the post captured ideas in her presentation accurately, but reading the post once it went live got her thinking more about what she presented last week in Portland. The thoughts she sent in her email are worth adding as a coda to the earlier post:
Last week Fuel Education held a Blended Learning Leaders Forum in Portland, Oregon, that featured two excellent speakers: Tres Tyvand of Bend La Pine Schools, and Bryan Wood of the Crater Lake Charter School. Both gave inspiring presentations, and one element that stood out for me was that both gave similar answers to how their programs had grown. Each emphasized that their programs expanded by focusing on a problem faced by the district or by individual students, solving that problem, and in doing so showing how blended learning can be a critical element of success for students and schools. Then they moved on to the next problem, solved it, and in doing so the programs grew.
An earlier blog post highlighted a key aspect of the recent New York State Online Learning Advisory Council Report that is especially promising: the recommendation to spend $100 million on professional development for teachers and administrators. The report is one of several state studies released since the publication of Keeping Pace 2015 that are worth examining in more detail. The professional development recommendation is the first of four:
The Final Report -- Findings and Recommendations of the New York State Online Learning Advisory Council includes two aspects that are promising for the future of online learning. Both are contained in the Council’s first recommendation, which is “that the Legislature and Governor allocate $100 million to support multi-year professional development grants. These grants will support both planning and implementation to expand development of instructional skills using online tools in classrooms, and online course availability and capacity.”
Our 2015 Proof Points project, which we completed in partnership with the Christensen Institute, looked at examples of blended learning success in traditional school districts. Christensen tells us that the series was among their most downloaded publications of the year, and the profiles received considerable media attention as well. The project scope did not include any follow-up with the schools to determine if their success would continue beyond the data that were originally reported, so we were pleased when one of the profiled schools contacted us to report their latest test scores.
Why do some fads develop, become prominent, and then slowly fade with many people barely noticing that the fad is no longer a thing? One reason is that news outlets tend to prominently cover launches, reporting on and repeating the promise of new technologies, products, courses, etc. But if the new “thing” doesn’t pan out as planned, the ensuing media coverage tends to be much smaller than the launch reporting. The average person remembers the launch and the promise, and doesn’t see the reality-based follow-up. Here’s an account of one such situation showing how this phenomenon occurs.
Several previous posts have explored key data points in the overall K-12 online learning landscape,and examples from specific states and districts. Here we add information drawn from some of the many profiles that we published in the report to further describe some prominent examples of online learning. These are all condensed versions; for more detail see the full report. Note that we do not suggest that these districts are representative of school district activity generally; in fact these are among the districts with some of the larger and longer-established programs.
(The following is excerpted and slightly adapted from Keeping Pace 2015. For all graphics below, click on the image to see a larger version.) The previous post discussed online learning activity in school districts, using information that Keeping Pace researchers had gathered from state virtual schools and other suppliers. Our understanding of the state of digital learning in public schools is bolstered by reports out of a few states that we cited, and a review of activity in a dozen districts.