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Technology: Online Learning

Virtual Academies Exploding Everywhere


Q. Everything seems to be moving online these days. Is it the same thing with K-12 education?


Yes, definitely. But as with everything else, there are good things and bad things about this trend.


Good things include more convenience and freedom of choice for students and parents to match the subjects to the students. When a subject is of high interest to a student, results tend to be better than when the subject is considered booooooooooring.


It's also beneficial for the student and parents to be able to select, design and create how the learning will be accomplished. Online course work is particularly helpful for students in special situations: those living abroad in military families; those who are elite athletes and not able to be in the classroom regularly; performing artists; chronically ill and homebound students; those who have been suspended or expelled, and so forth.


But on the negative side, the trend has frightening potential for brainwashing, if the government-controlled computer becomes the teacher in charge of the content instead of countless school boards and educators who are individual human beings. It also suggests the continuation of the achievement gap between the "haves," who can afford "boutique" learning experiences, and the "have-nots," who cannot, unless their public school district pays for it, and often, those districts are under extreme pressure to cut spending, not add to it.


Another down side is that as online learning becomes more widespread, it suggests huge future problems for social interaction, if many students learn online and become less skilled or even averse to human interaction away from the technology.


Nevertheless, online learning is a multi-billion dollar enterprise that is here to stay. Online schooling that is Web-based can be called "the virtual classroom." Not limited to four physical walls, an online learning experience typically uses text, images, animation, streaming video, and audio. It might take shape as a wiki, a podcast, a blog, an ePortfolio, a digital collaboration, a discussion board, even a digital blackboard.


The lay of the land:


-- Independent online learning companies, chiefly, offering full- and part-time online courses in a wide range of subjects, from elementary school through high school, and available for at-home purchase by parents for full- or part-time homeschooling . . . or for purchase by schools for individualized learning within the public-school setting . . . or for purchase by schools for entire classrooms, for either supplemental or full use.


-- Independent, subject-matter expert online courses, such as for foreign languages.


-- State-sponsored online charter schools, offered free to any residents under age 21, usually, who for whatever the reason don't want to enroll in a regular building. They tend to open and fill up very quickly. They are often supplemented by telephone teaching and computer help. For a partial list, see:


-- Public school districts or state education departments, as well as private schools, might offer "global academies," which are virtual schools available on a tuition basis to non-residents. For a look at the Florida Virtual School's offerings, see:


-- A growing number of supplemental online learning academies are springing up to serve special-needs populations, including students who need math tutoring, want summer learning experiences, or want something to do after school. For an example, see:




Homework: Help forecast what's coming to elementary and secondary education by looking at what is going on with online learning in higher education. For example, see or


By Susan Darst Williams Technology 2011




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