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Online Learning: Trends in K-12


High schools are embracing online education techniques, and elementary and middle schools are engaging in online delivery as well. In a recent post, Online Student of the Future, I introduced you to this group of online students. A range of activities exists, from state adoption of eBooks to fully online K-12 curricula. This trend is likely to continue as school districts look for ways to manage costs and provide students with new methods to achieve learning objectives via technology. Educators are learning from educators at all levels – expanding their perspectives and awareness of new ideas and approaches. In this post, I'll provide some examples for you to further explore, address some of the pros and cons of online K-12 education, and introduce you to a few leaders in the field.

In Practice:  Uses, Environments, and Contexts

From completely online to blended alternatives, there are resources available for many K-12 needs, and at all levels of K-12 education. Students can complete an entire curriculum online, just take one course, or use available tutorials and exercises for extra help. Teachers can teach in online schools or augment their traditional classroom lessons with online materials.

  • Virtual Schools: Virtual Schools, such as California Virtual Academy and the Florida Virtual School, are offering online K-12 curricula as part of the public school system. The programs are taught by certified teachers, accredited, and closely aligned with state requirements. Private K-12 options are also available. National Connections Academy is one example.
  • Home Schooling: Parents who home school their children can also benefit from existing online K-12 curriculum materials through companies like K12.com. The vendors offer instructor's guides, tests, and other guidance.
  • Special Situations: Students and their parents may turn to online options for specific needs that include summer school credits and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Enrollment options allow students to apply earned online credits to their graduation requirements. These options also allow students to take remedial courses and advanced courses that may not be available in their local areas. The National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) maintains a catalog of "high quality online course content", including AP.
  • Supplemental Materials: A host of educational materials can be found online, much of it free to use and often provided with an open license. These materials include lesson plans, games, practice exercises, help tutorials, demonstrations, and learning objects that can be used by teachers, parents and students to supplement the work that is taking place in class, face-to-face and online. The Math Playground (for younger students) and The Physics Classroom (for older students) are just two examples.

Benefits and Challenges

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, a quality online course "can meet the needs of our students and schools by helping to solve teacher shortages, expanding curriculum options, providing options for credit recovery and alleviating scheduling conflicts." These benefits are not without challenges – learning opportunities need to be well-designed, and both students and teachers need to have the skills necessary to effectively engage in online learning activities. There are several concerns to be aware of as you move forward with your investigation of online K-12 resources and opportunities.

  • Readiness of students: As with higher education, a successful online student in K-12 needs to be ready for the experience. This includes being motivated to complete work on time and skilled with the technologies required to communicate with instructors and complete assignments. Look for orientation sessions that help students prepare for the online learning experience.
  • Cheating and plagiarism: These are problems at all levels of education and online K-12 programs are not immune. This plagiarism resources site includes information and tutorials on both avoiding plagiarism and detecting it when it occurs.
  • Costs to students: Online doesn't necessarily mean free. Parents and students should ask questions about tuition – some courses and programs are free while others charge tuition or other fees.
  • Safe environments: Online students can also be subject to bullying in the form of "cyberbullying." Read Write Think provides helpful resources for parents, students and teachers. These resources also include development of media and information literacy skills.

Resources and Innovators

Continue your research and exploration of online K-12 with the following organizations and educators. There are many more out there but these will give you a place to start with resources, information, reviews, and opinions about a wide range of topics.

Making decisions about online learning for K-12 students can be overwhelming. The experience of being an online learner can also be overwhelming for students. Fortunately, there is a lot of research taking place and teachers are documenting their experiences in order to share their successes and lessons learned. What are your thoughts on K-12 online opportunities? Consider sharing some of your experiences, and resources, with us here.

June 23rd, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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