Must-read report on online learning

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May 28, 2009

For those who follow our blog and are interested in online learning, a must read is the latest report by Anthony G. Picciano and Jeff Seaman, entitled “K-12 Online Learning: A 2008 Follow-up of the Survey of U.S. School District Administrators.” You can find the report here.

Published by The Sloan Consortium in January 2009, the report builds off an earlier one from two years before that the authors did in which they chronicled the emerging landscape of online learning in K-12 education through a survey that reached district administrators in a range of representative districts—rural, town, suburban, and urban. We used that report to inform our work in writing Disrupting Class extensively, as we found it to be among the best sources of information out there.

This report does not disappoint either. The highlights are good, but the fuller report is also rich—as is the fair discussion of our book toward the end of the report.

A few things worth noting from the report’s highlights (along with some brief personal commentary), and then I encourage everyone to read the report:

–    A whopping 75 percent of public school districts offer online or blended courses
–    Most of these districts anticipate their online offerings will grow, and the biggest growth appears to be in blended learning—something that makes sense to us for a variety of reasons.
–    According to Picciano and Seaman’s numbers, enrollments in online courses grew 47 percent from 2005-06 to 2007-08.
–    Online courses are meeting the needs of a range of students—from those who need credit recovery to those desiring advanced courses. This dovetails with our observations.
–    An encouraging sign in my view is that they report that school districts are relying on multiple online learning providers. I hope that this will give students different choices to find the best courses for their learning needs and styles.
–    Online courses represent an absolute lifeline for small rural school districts. Not only do they help them offer nice-to-have courses, they also help them offer basic, core courses, too, that they would otherwise not be able to offer. Again, this matches with what I see. For example, the Department of Education reports that 25 percent of schools don’t offer any advanced courses, as defined as anything above Algebra 2, Biology (so no Chemistry and Physics), and any honors English. I guarantee there are plenty of students in those schools who would like or need the opportunity to take those courses, however, so online courses are filling a core need.

– Michael B. Horn

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