Can every student access a world-class education? This is the primary question driving the growth of new solutions and next generation educational models made possible through online and blended learning.
In an era of shrinking budgets and with an increasing need for students to be globally-competitive, online and blended learning solutions are expanding student access to high-quality courses and programs in across the globe. According to Christensen, Horn and Johnson (2008) in Disrupting Class, “It is estimated that in 2014, 10 percent of all courses will be computer-based, and by 2019, 50 percent of courses will be delivered online.”
Why? Many students would otherwise not be able to take these courses or have access to these teachers. One student in the Rocky Mountain region remarked that they would not be competitive when applying to college without being able to access the online advanced courses available through a virtual school for credit. Many schools are unable to provide advanced courses in very rural communities, restricting the ability for students who live in these underserved areas to take rigorous courses on transcripts for college admissions a challenge, except for new options made possible through online learning.
Online learning is expanding access to courses in K-12 education and providing a new network of highly qualified teachers to schools and students in underserved communities. Online learning has numerous benefits, including expanding course offerings, offering customized and personalized learning, giving struggling students a second chance to master a subject through online credit recovery when they fall behind to catch up, and providing a rigorous, interactive learning model for schools that is data-rich.
Blended and Hybrid Learning using Emerging Technologies
According to a 2004 Educause Research Bulletin, “combining face-to-face with fully online components optimizes both environments in ways impossible in other formats.” This is known as blended or hybrid learning. Online learning is being incorporated into the traditional classrooms with tremendous success, especially for credit recovery, advanced placement (to promote college-readiness), continuity of learning during a pandemic, dual enrollment, and more.
Other emerging technologies in online and blended learning include digital, adaptive content, the use of gaming for learning, virtual reality and mobile learning (mLearning). These innovations continue to change the landscape of traditional learning and increase student opportunities for a new community of learners.
An International Comparison
Many countries are embracing online delivery of education as a central strategy for enabling reform, modernizing schools and increasing access to a world-class education. Across North America, online learning continues to grow as more students enroll in online and blended courses. In Canada, there is some distance learning in each province and territory. British Columbia and Ontario support significant province-wide initiatives and policies. In fact, British Columbia is leading in the level of activity and extensiveness of supportive policies around online learning. There are more than 150,000 online course enrollments taken by 54,000 students (of the 651,600 students in British Columbia) – with a 75% course completion rate – making BC a global leader. In addition, Ontario is developing online courses for students and making four versions of them available to schools (an English and French version of each course, a full web-based course and a modular version of each online course). Teachers and students may access the course materials to provide blended learning using digital curriculum and courses. Students may also access the materials at school or home, for homework help and for additional resources. In other provinces, district-run programs are common. There is momentum across Canada to expand quality educational opportunities using online learning. iNACOL published a study of K-12 online learning policy and practice in Canada. The study is available online on the website, iNACOL State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada and written by Micheal Barbour. The link is: http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNACOL_CanadaStudy_200911.pdf
In the United States, 27 of the 50 states offer online courses through state virtual schools and 25 states allow full-time online programs as options for K-12 students. 75% of school districts in the United States offer at least one online course to students. Mexico has digitized their entire K-12 content and curriculum and teacher education programs in their universities use the digital curriculum to provide the new teachers with skills in online instruction, as well as providing every teacher with a laptop.
Other examples from around the globe highlight the trend of growing online courses in K-12 education. China has digitized their entire K-12 curriculum and is working to train master teachers to teach online so that China can scale high-quality education through e-learning to 100 million students in the next ten years. Singapore prepares every pre-service and in-service secondary teacher to teach online. India is working on developing internationally-benchmarked, digital, K-12 curriculum through the EduComp project, a private-public partnership, and at the same time is working to develop a $10 laptop and new distribution model for education that is technologically-driven. South Korea has a national virtual school offering online courses. Turkey has scaled online courses to 15 million K-12 students in just three years through public-private partnerships. The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is now offering the IB Diploma Programme Online to students in 125 different countries. These students have opportunities to learn, interact, share ideas and communicate on a global scale with students from other countries. The IB program is providing instruction using highly effective teachers, with skills in online instruction, to teach web-based courses. The IB is increasing access for students around the world — to a world-class education.
There are rapidly changing delivery models of providing increased access to high quality educational opportunities — driven by blended and virtual learning – and this is a key strategy for education reform and modernization globally.
The Future is Now
Today, education leaders must explore and invest in innovations and create student-centered pathways providing educational opportunity for all children, regardless of geography, family income-level or background. New pathways are made possible by web-enabled courses and programs in K-12 education and new, next generation models of learning are emerging using instructional innovations that can personalize education and adapt to the way our children learn best, at any time and any place. We need to push concepts of what schools of the future look like, what is possible, how differently schools can operate. The future will be in mobile, online learning, ambient, 3D, virtual worlds that allow students to learn, interact with each other and experts, using more artificial intelligence to identify gaps and interventions that will be most effective, use more adaptive technologies, sophisticated assessments and new, blended and online learning approaches.
We can change the course of education in North America. Online learning is an innovation that is powerful – and for kids, it comes naturally.