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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Idaho Digital Learning Academy

Grades 9-12 | Statewide, ID

Susan Patrick: Why Online Learning Is a Smart Solution

The president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) explains why the time for virtual education is now.

Susan Patrick: Why Online Learning Is a Smart Solution (Transcript)

Susan: The United States spends more money on education than any other country in the world except for Switzerland, and yet we still have these huge disparities in opportunities between kids, and mostly, it's based on a student's zip code or what neighborhood they live in. It's tied to their family background, what kind of educational opportunities are going to be available to them through public schools. We know that we've got a looming teacher shortage in critical subjects, and we're not going to be able to solve these problems through traditional means.

The example that I like to use is in the state of Georgia, there are 400 high schools and there are 89 qualified physics teachers in the state. So right there, you know that not all of your high schools have- can even offer physics, so how are you going to do that? I don't know that we're going to ramp up the number of teachers going into those high schools, unfortunately, so we can offer online classes. We can offer online physics class and train teachers to teach that class online. And what we're starting to see is that in states like Georgia, they're bringing teachers who have 5 or 10 years of experience, say, teaching physics but may not want to teach a full load. They can come back and all of a sudden have adjunct faculty positions. They have part-time teaching positions, and they're able to teach online. Here, you've got a great experienced teacher that has left the field. You can bring them back in and give them new professional opportunities. And the teachers are loving it because they feel like they have more one-on-one interactions with the kids in their classes, but it also gives them some flexibility in how they teach and a broader range of kids to teach, whether it's in that state or beyond.

What online learning does, it allows you to use time differently. It allows you to work with every child individually in how they move- move through the content and not just use the time but the support, the kind of student support that comes up with students working together peer to peer, students working with the teacher. When you start looking at these kind of reform movements that say, "Well, let's take the existing school model that we have, but what we need is a longer day," I think you're going to see more kids frustrated. They don't want to be there in the same system longer. They want to do things differently. They want- they want the relevance, they want those relationships, and they want that kind of critical thinking, and- and they want to be challenged. We need to really shift the way we do professional development for teachers and just modernize it, and that means prepare them to go out and teach in a digital, connected, collaborative, networked world. Let's start there. And then the students that are coming into these schools are going to be able to take more self-responsibility and be more self-directed because they know they have to move through this content and curriculum by a certain time, and they can make the choice whether to take a- a few more minutes on another project or to make the choice to not do some work for a while or make the choice to go back and do the work. The work's still going to be there for them.

Online learning is connecting people from all across the country, even all across the world, with students in every setting and giving them individualized learning opportunities, connecting them with great teachers, and really tracking how well students are doing. So even if they struggle in a class the first time when they take it, they can be given new resources, a broader range of resources, and we're really starting to see that students taking online courses are more engaged and in many of the programs are having much higher rates of success in terms of not just finishing the courses but how well they learn and learning how to learn differently in this new modern age.

Narrator: For more information about what works in education, go to Edutopia.org.

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Video Credits

Produced by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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