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Online Learning: The Next Great Debate?

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

I recently read with interest an article, "British Kids Log On and Learn Math - in Punjab" published in the New York Times. It reports that schools in Britain are outsourcing both supplemental and private education to math tutors in India via online technology.

Part of what was remarkable to me as I worked my way through the pros and cons in the article is what I learned about auxiliary items in the discussion, such as I did not realize that Pearson Education, a stalwart of educational products in the United States, is really British.

In addition, I was amazed that so many individuals in the U.K., who already know about Open University (OU), would decry the chance for students to find a solution to their needs -- online classes with teachers in India -- that is not only more affordable, but also more flexible for busy family schedules. The Open University, by the way, is a pioneer in using online technology for distance learning; indeed, the Web site for Open University states that more than a quarter of a million students are taking courses in Great Britain and Europe, with worldwide partners, that provide high quality educational experiences.

As their Web site explains so well:

"The OU was founded to open up higher education to all, regardless of their circumstances or where they live. We have students of all ages and backgrounds...As part of our mission we are making an increasing amount of Open University teaching and learning resources available free of charge to anyone with access to the internet, no matter where in the world they live."

With that information in front of me, my question is really this: What took the secondary schools in the U.K. so long to realize the potential of online education to meet the needs of their individual students?

The article extols how the tutors in the U.K. have a price range that is almost twice that of the tutors in India. Teachers in the U.K. unions are worried that they might be replaced if online tutoring is highly successful; they admit that in the article. The article interviews individuals from both sides of this issue, while reporting the facts and opinions. However, the students and families, at this point in time, appear to be in favor of the innovation of offering online courses to British secondary level schools.

If families are willing to spend their own time and money on teachers and tutors in India, that is their freedom. If the schools have found a way in this very tight economy to provide these additional services to their students, that must have been the topic of many administrative discussions before they made a decision to go in that direction. After all, many educators themselves at these U.K. schools may have been students over the years at the Open University and embraced the versatility that distance learning affords every learner.

What are your thoughts on online learning? Is it a threat to the traditional classroom-teaching model, or do you see it more as providing flexibility to students and increasing access to learning? We look forward to your comments on this issue.

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Matthew Kitchens's picture
Matthew Kitchens
Seventh-grade reading/ELA teacher from Ennis, Texas

Dr. Klinger, I'm pursuing a master's degree in education technology leadership, and I fully support online learning. Currently, I'm piloting in my sixth-grade reading/ELA classroom the use of the student social-networking site www.MyBigCampus.com for my district. The kids love the threaded discussion boards, where my students and I engage each other on different topics from the novels we've been studying. My district technology director asked me to brief campus- and central-office administrators on my successes using the site. To open my discussion, I created and posted the following video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpylVq8_YvM.

It amazes me that there are 50 million students worldwide on Facebook, and, yet, many educators are unwilling to give closed and filtered social networks like MBC a try. The platform motivates the kids, most of whom are willing to accept help with grammar and punctuation because they realize it makes their posts more professional and easier to understand. As my video asks, when will educators Face Facts?

Tim McClung's picture
Tim McClung
WV for Education Reform

Without rehashing the main points in the book, Disrupting Class, regarding online learning, public education risks losing its relevance if it does not embrace online learning in a huge way. And embracing it in a way that completely re-designs the notion of school and schooling. I think the picture that Roger Schank has painted in this article shows us what could be possible.


John Kazmaier's picture
John Kazmaier
Math Teacher

Public education has to catch up with the rest of the world. We seem content to stick with the antequated pedagogies from "when we were in school" and hope that they work. I have set up a class page on Moodle through my district's intranet, but still have not been able to use it to it's full potential. I am currently working on my Master's degree online and have been learning a TON about online learning and it's pros and cons (that's why I'm here!). When administration is constantly talking about "21st Century Skills," they need to back it up. My district is finally making strides to that end and I'm quite happy about it. Our students need to get used to seeing these types of classes since they will most likely see them in high school/college.

Joe Pluskota's picture

I too am an online student pursuing my master's however have conflicting feelings about online learning in math for my high school students. I often have a student who inevitably employs a tutor. While the tutor has been able to address some of their deficiencies, they tend not to see the big picture of the curriculum. In essence, they do not know what key points the curriculum/I would like to emphasize. I can only correlate this experience to online learning. While I think colleges do a good job of structuring the material and college students are saavy enough to extrapolate what they need to know, I am uncertain of a high shool or middle school student's ability to perform in the same manner. I feel that they may miss part of the "big picture" at this age.

Steven Dennison's picture

I agree. Students need to be more familiar with online classes so that it's nothing new when they begin classes. Most everything is going to be offered online eventually. I too am getting more familiar to online classes and how to navigate around. I think if students are able to take courses that are online, they will get a better understanding of what to expect. We need to incorporate more computer based skills. We must face the reality that computers are going to be involved with most everything that we do. We must not ignore them but use them and know that they will allow for more student engagement.

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