Classroom Technology

Tracking E-Learning Growth

By Ian Quillen — June 29, 2010 2 min read
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Online learning is spreading quickly in U.S. schools, with 27 percent of high school students saying they were enrolled in at least one online course in 2009, nearly double the 14 percent enrolled in 2008, according a newly released update to a 2007 study.

Further, online learning appears to run in the family, according to the report released by Blackboard K-12 and Project Tomorrow at the ISTE 2010 ed-tech conference Tuesday morning. Students with a parent who had taken an online course were twice as likely to take or explore taking their own virtual course. And more parents than ever—33 percent—reported having enrolled in an online course for work or pleasure.

“I think that that’s just a little piece of something bigger that’s going on,” said Jessie Woolley-Wilson, Blackboard K-12 president, who suggested that parents’ interest could be sparked by students’ online courses. “The archetypes ... are changing. Teachers are students. Students are teachers. And so our notion of a linear learning curve that is completely dictated by your age and by your grade and all this stuff, it all blows up.”

But while students, parents, teachers and administrators all appear to be more open to online learning, the infrastructure to accommodate that demand is still evolving—and at this point still falling short, the survey finds.

Almost 40 percent of school administrators said their ability to offer online courses is hindered by state funding issues. A quarter of students said their school either didn’t offer online courses or didn’t advertise them, and only 4 percent of teachers surveyed reported receiving any education about delivering online courses when they were in education school.

To gather data, the report’s authors surveyed around 300,000 students, 26,000 parents, 39,000 teachers, and 4,000 administrators. More than half of the schools represented in the survey were Title-I eligible.

John Canuel, director of educational technology services at Jefferson County, Colo., Public Schools and a member of Blackboard’s advisory board, said the results point to more nuanced structural demands than existed even three years ago. While the study mainly differentiates who is learning online and who isn’t, he says it’s exactly how they are learning—whether it’s one supplemental online course, a full regiment of online schooling, or a blended approach, for example—that can make things difficult for districts.

“There’s a whole range of choices now,” Canuel said, “From camps to full-time online [learning] that is becoming the greater challenge. How do you comprehensively provide that? That is a challenge for leadership. ... It’s now this very complex case of, when is online [learning] online?”

Administrators appear to be reacting to the demand by shifting their focus toward online learning for students. Yet their primary focus for online learning continues to be for professional development, the report says.

Check out our special report, E-Learning 2010, Assessing the Agenda for Change, if you’d like to learn more about the new challenges surrounding the growth and evolution of online learning.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.