For those naysayers who have been suspect of whether online learning would continue to grow in the highly regulated K-12 sector as disruptive innovations do, more evidence emerged recently to suggest that it’s not just us and the theory saying that it will do that, but it is in fact doing just that.

According to a report titled Speak Up 2009 released by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow, a whopping 27 percent of high school students took at least one online course in 2009—nearly double the 14 percent who took at least one online course in 2008.

If that’s remotely right, that is not so far off the number of students who were taking at least one online course in post-secondary education a couple years ago.

This rapid growth is also broadly in line with our projection in Disrupting Class that by 2019 50 percent of all high school courses will be taken online—either at a distance or in a blended/hybrid way. That prediction doesn’t seem as far fetched as it perhaps once did.

There are a couple of other interesting findings from the study, for which you can find more information here and here.

First, only 4 percent of teachers report receiving any education about delivering online courses when they were in education school. If that is indicative of what is happening today still, we have a problem—and one that is consistent with what I hear. I would suspect we might begin to see more start-up teacher preparation programs that solve this market need more than do the existing players in the short term.

Second, the survey finds that students who have a parent who has taken an online course were twice as likely to take or explore one. And 33 percent of parents reported enrolling in an online course for work or for pleasure. This prompted a great quote in the Education Week piece from Jessie Woolley-Wilson, the Blackboard K-12 president: “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.”

Lastly, there are a string of findings about the leadership challenges to providing access to these courses that have interesting policy implications as well.

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One more note about one of the sponsors of this study, Blackboard. If you haven’t already seen by now, they recently acquired two rival companies in education, Elluminate and Wimba, which both provide synchronous learning platforms. This is a fascinating and smart acquisition that further unites the LMS with live collaboration and social networking, which makes complete sense to me. Although I don’t know the full terms of the deal, I suspect it also shows that there is a payoff for investors in the education space that hopefully will serve to attract more investment in the future. I recommend reading Steve Hargadon’s reflections on what this acquisition might mean.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.