Online learning is making education available in new ways to more students, through a variety of curriculum programs, systems and companies. In K-12 education, online learning is also often referred to as virtual, digital or internet-based education and refers specifically to learning which takes place via the internet or internet-based tools.
K-12 online learning has changed rapidly over the last decade. Initially, online classes were available as a variety of supplements to subjects, or as only one complete subject online, without any live instruction. Then online tutors gradually came on the scene making use of recorded video-based instruction, chat and other internet-based features. “In the year 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. In 2009, more than 3 million K–12 students did. What was originally a distance learning phenomenon no longer is,” say Horn and Staker in The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning.
As of 2011, according to the Center for Education Reform, the U.S. has 1 ½ million charter school students and of those, 142,240 are being served through 241 online charter schools. In California, there are currently 54 online charter schools serving 17,092 students. Charter schools are offering competitive and innovative online programs in California and nationwide, growing and opening new schools and networks of schools. These online charter schools now offer a wide variety of complete curriculum programs. Some incorporate face-to-face instruction.
A 2010 U.S. Department of Education study of online learning concludes that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The department’s Office of Education Technology has developed a National Education Technology Plan 2010, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered By Technology. It states, “Online learning options should be provided to enable leveraging the best teaching and make high-quality course options available to all learners. As online learning becomes an increasingly important part of our education system, we need to provide online and blended learning experiences that are more participatory and personalized and that embody best practices for engaging all students.”
The positive evidence shown in school test scores throughout the state, that online learning in charter schools is beneficial for K-12 students, is working in these educational settings and settings because of the following facts:
1. students are allowed to progress at their own pace
2. range of courses available is expanded
3. highly qualified teachers become available in subjects where they are normally unavailable
4. flexibility exists for students facing scheduling conflicts
5. classes available for at-risk students, so they continue their studies, even though they are outside the classroom
6. credit recovery programs help students get back on track to graduate
7. students who are behind in a class can catch up
8. on-demand and instant feedback from teachers or from the online course, is available to students 24/7
9. students increase their technology skills
10. professional development opportunities are available to teachers and schools at little or no cost
Online learning in charter schools has made its way into the hearts and minds of students. It is beneficial to students, improving and increasing learning and test scores. Let’s hope it finds its way to all public and private school students and classrooms soon!