Online learning means learning that is primarily reliant on the internet — as opposed to a physical classroom — for delivery of content. There are many varieties of online learning, involving varying degrees of personal contact. Online learning is growing rapidly at both the K12 and post-secondary levels.
It appears that half or more of the states are now sponsoring state wide virtual schools and that the majority of K12 online learning is occurring at the high school level. While all agree that K12 online learning is growing very rapidly, recent national enrollment estimates from the Sloan Consortium appear to be unreliable because they are based on a limited self-selected sample. It does appear clear that across the country many states are moving much faster than Massachusetts.
The Sloane survey data seem more valid as to how online learning is working in the places that it has been adopted and these data are consisent with other reports listed on the pages linked to further below.
- Online learning is usually being adopted to meet unmet needs — courses not available, advanced courses, special groups of students, scheduling conflicts.
- Unmet needs are more important as motivators for districts than saving money or improving instruction or addressing space limitations.
- Access to technology is usually not a critical barrier to the introduction of online courses — the concerns are cost and quality of available offerings.
- Students do need more discipline to succeed in online learning.
- Almost half of districts doing online learning are doing so through a post-secondary institution. State virtual schools and other districts are also common providers; independent vendors serve about 1/3 of districts. Note that districts often have multiple types of providers, with almost half having 3 or more providers.
- Although pure online models are more common, blended models combining online and in-person learning may sometimes be useful.