Christian Science Monitor profiles virtual school growth


May 14, 2008

The Christian Science Monitor profiles the growth of virtual schools and concerns about them in a May 14, 2008 article titled “Virtual Schools See Strong Growth, Calls for More Oversight.” The article cites Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn’s article in Education Next extensively and quotes Horn as well. You can read the article here.

The article reads: “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 and a report coauthor. … If computers take over [delivery of content], teachers can work with those who need help. ‘It can change our assumption of what teacher-student ratios make sense.'”

In addition to reviewing the projected growth of online learning, the article also cites concerns about it. Luis Huerta, a professor at Columbia Teachers’ College raises some questions in the article. The article reads: “Huerta worries that the report’s authors have confused efficiency with quality. ‘There has been no valid study showing that children participating in virtual or computer-based learning models are performing any better than in traditional schools,’ he says.”

In the report Huerta references, Christensen and Horn in fact do not confuse efficiency with quality; they make no claims about quality in the cited report.

In their forthcoming book on the topic, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Christensen and Horn, along with their other co-author, Curtis W. Johnson, specifically say the delivery vehicle is not the causal mechanism that determines whether a student learns. The causal mechanism is instead whether a subject is taught in a way that is customized to the way he or she best learns and processes information. A teacher who engages a student in the way he or she is best wired to learn will have better results than a computer that delivers material in a way that does not.

The exciting thing is that, over time, computer-based learning has the potential to allow for an easier and more economical customization of content to match students’ different learning styles because of its modular nature. This is in stark contrast to the dominant current school model’s interdependent architecture, which mandates standardization in the way schools teach and test. Currently, however, most online learning courses do not tap into this potential.

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.