Special Report

E-Learning Hits Barriers to Expansion

By Constance Gustke — April 23, 2010 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Many countries are ratcheting up their K-12 e-learning programs. China has digitized its entire system of K-12 courses and so has Mexico. Turkey’s online courses now educate 15 million students, compared with 1 million in the United States. And similar pushes are under way in Australia, Europe, India, New Zealand, and South America.

For many U.S. educators and e-learning advocates, a national—or even global—online-learning framework makes good sense. But going national or global will require some catching up and lifting of policy restrictions now in place.

“Online education is a global phenomenon. [But] we’re behind the curve,” said Michael Horn, the executive director of education at the Innosight Institute, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that advocates innovative practices in education and government. He is a co-author of the 2008 book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

E-Learning 2010:
Assessing the Agenda for Change
Overview: About This Report
Schools Factoring E-Courses Into the Daily Learning Mix
E-Learning Delivery Debated
Detroit-Area District Innovates to Address Dropout Problem
Virtual Ed. Enrollment Caps Facing Greater Scrutiny
E-Learning Hits Barriers to Expansion
Lack of Sustainable Funding a Challenge for Online Ed.
Accreditation Is Seen as High Priority
E-Learning in All Shapes snd Sizes
E-Curriculum Builders Seek a Personalized Approach
Web Extras
Webinar: Building Bridges to Better E-Learning
Online Chat: District Strategies for E-Learning
Digital Edition Read an interactive digital edition of E-Learning 2010: Assessing the Agenda for Change.
Spotlight on E-Learning This free Spotlight feature examines the evolution of e-learning and smart digital strategies for schools.

The trick is navigating a U.S. school system diced into some 15,000 districts and 50 states, characterized by distinctive academic requirements and varying policy barriers. The resulting silo effect slows down the expansion of online learning across state borders, globally, and even outside local districts, according to experts.

And some states are still lagging way behind others. Vermont, for instance, is just getting its e-courses going, said Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL. Some big states, like New York, don’t have a state virtual school.

“The Northeast is furthest behind,” Ms. Patrick said. “And Delaware just quit its funding for pilot programs.”

The Southeast and the Midwest, on the other hand, have strong virtual programs in several places.

Demand for online courses from outside providers such as states or private companies is high in small rural school districts in states like Minnesota, because the local districts don’t have the resources to offer a wide variety of courses or to build their own online curricula. But their ability to access good online courses will depend on the reach of outside providers of virtual courses.

“In an online world, there’s no need to be restricted by geographic borders,” said John Watson, the founder of Evergreen Education Group in Evergreen, Colo. “[But] funding is a huge catch. So, online learning will remain limited to statewide levels.”

“You can’t generalize on how virtual education works best,” added Mr. Horn. He believes that “we have to figure out a way not to make it state by state. We have a lot of restrictions in place.”

Private Phenomenon?

For example, the Florida Virtual School, or FLVS, provides courses for Florida students in 67 districts, and separately to students from 45 other states and 34 countries. Student course enrollments in FLVS increased from 36,679 in 2004-05 to 154,125 in 2008-09.

Experts say that its strengths include funding that follows student enrollment, rather than relying on state appropriations, and a policy that no student is turned away from taking any online course.

“Florida Virtual School is very student-centered,” said Jamie Sachs, the associate director of education technology for the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board.

FLVS is taking the lessons it has learned and is applying them beyond state borders. It sells online courses to other states and countries via a team of content producers, earning licensing fees from courses. The fees are paid per course, not per student, and they are adapted to each state’s or country’s education standards. However, the school is not a global school. Students in Florida do not take classes with students from other states or countries.

Meanwhile, the state-sponsored Virtual Virginia online school serves students from every school district. The school has a staff of 25 full-time online teachers. Cathy Cheely, the Virtual Virginia program manager, said it discourages the use of part-time teachers who also work in brick-and-mortar schools, but has had to take that approach sometimes to handle online-enrollment spikes.

To use virtual learning more expansively, Ms. Sachs believes in lots of options for students. She encourages traditional schools to look at online courses as blended models, in which online learning is mixed with traditional approaches.

“Online instruction helps teachers use their time more wisely,” she said. “A teacher could make a video and have students watch it at home, rather than listening to a lecture in class.”

That tactic of using a video works for students who aren’t a good fit for virtual schools. They might need more face-to-face interaction.

As it is, private online-course providers are the only truly global ones for now. “Maybe it will become a private phenomenon,” Mr. Horn said. “Public systems close their doors at their own peril.”

Ms. Patrick agreed. “I don’t see [public] virtual schools going nationwide, because they’re locally controlled by districts and states,” she said.

Yet studying with people way beyond their local communities offers many benefits for students, experts contend, because it’s the future of a globalized world.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2010 edition of Education Week as E-Learning Hits Barriers to Expansion


English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Pave the Path to Excellence in Math
Empower your students' math journey with Sue O'Connell, author of “Math in Practice” and “Navigating Numeracy.”
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Opinion School Reform Is Tough All Over, Not Just in the U.S.
Even though some reforms produce evidence of student success, that often isn't enough to overcome political hurdles.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
International In Their Own Words What a Teachers' Union Leader Saw in Ukraine
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was in the country just after widespread air strikes from Russia.
4 min read
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten prepares to cross the border into Ukraine on Oct. 10.
Randi Weingarten visited Ukraine on Oct. 10—the day Russian missiles slammed into Lviv, Kyiv, and other cities.
Courtesy of AFT
International Q&A 'Tell American Students to Be Grateful': What Ukrainian Refugees Told AFT's President
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten traveled to Poland to meet with Ukrainian students and teachers.
4 min read
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten passes out books to Ukrainian refugees at a makeshift school in a hostel in Warsaw, Poland, on April 4, 2022.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten passes out books to Ukrainian refugees at a makeshift school in a hostel in Warsaw, Poland, on April 4.
Courtesy of Asher Huey
International What the Research Says How Nations Can Repair Pandemic Damage to Students' Well-Being, Trust in Government
International data suggest the pandemic has marginalized young people in many countries.
3 min read
Image of high school students working together in a school setting.