Private / Independent schools – Why Move into Online and Blended Learning?

Keeping Pace 2013 is available for download at Over the coming weeks we’re going to post highlights of the report here in our blog.

Private and independent schools are discussed in Keeping Pace for the first time in 2013; we’ll look at why they are beginning to adopt online and blended courses in this first post, the first signs of online and blended activity in the private sector tomorrow, and on Wednesday we’ll look at those states that allow private students to take funded public school courses.

Private and independent schools are beginning to adopt online and blended courses, and some online and blended private school consortia are being created as well. Although Keeping Pace has in the past been focused primarily on public schools, the ways in which private schools are embracing online and blended learning is increasingly of interest, and we believe that the private and public sectors can learn from one another.

We believe that there are several reasons why private schools have generally been slower than public schools to embrace blended and online learning. First is the perceived need, or a lack of it. We believe that public schools in the middle Atlantic and New England states have been slower to adopt blended and online learning than the southern states, in part, because student performance in the northern states has generally been better. States with poorer performance were more likely to experiment than states that were generally satisfied with their outcomes. This dynamic likely extends to private schools. Many private schools have felt that students and parents were largely satisfied with their schools, so pressure to innovate and experiment was light.

Second, some online programs in public schools have evolved from distance education offerings, particularly in Midwestern and Western states. These include, for example, the North Dakota Center for Distance Education and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which has a program for high school students. Private schools have not typically had such distance education programs to build from.

Third, in many private schools, and especially independent schools, parents and students place a particularly high value on the personal connection between teachers and students, and between the school and the family. The perception that online courses lack the same level of personal connection has slowed their acceptance, and online learning pioneers have had to demonstrate high levels of teacher involvement in online courses—much as they have done in the public school sector.