Online Ed. Grows, But Is that a Good Thing?

By Katie Ash — May 14, 2008 1 min read

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about online education. It started when I read this article written by my colleague Andrew Trotter about a book which predicts that by 2019, 50 percent of all high school classes will be taught online. That same week, the poll on asked readers “Is the trend toward delivery of education online education a positive development?” Not sure exactly what I felt about the subject, I decided not to vote, but to just watch and see how the question played out in our highly unscientific survey. In the end, out of 131 total responses, 87 (or 66%) of voters said yes, and 44 (or 33%) of voters said no.

Then today, I found this article in the Christian-Science Monitor--"Virtual schools see strong growth, calls for more oversight.” And I have to say, I was relieved to find that a lot of the reservations I had about online education were discussed in the article. As someone who has grown up with computers and the Internet, I am generally open to the widespread use of technology in classrooms. But something about giving up actual classrooms with real, live teachers and students for a virtual representation of that gives me pause. Can students really be as engaged in what they’re learning if a classroom discussion takes place in a chatroom rather than an actual room with other kids? Or do online classes have the potential to get kids even more motivated by giving them the autonomy to complete lessons at their own pace--spending more time on the subjects they struggle with and less on the concepts they more easily understand? Are some subject areas better suited for this kind of set-up than others?

According to the Christian-Science Monitor article, there isn’t much research to say whether or not online education programs are effective yet, and most experts agree that if anything, the sector needs more guidance and oversight from officials. But many also say virtual learning has a lot of potential:

Teachers in traditional schools "don't have a lot of time to be a tutor, mentor, or motivator because so much of their time is spent delivering one-size-fits-all lectures," says Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute ... If computers take over lecturing, teachers can work with those who need help.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this debate as the trend toward online education grows.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.