George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

Online Learning: The Next Great Debate?

November 18, 2010

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.

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  • Technology Integration
  • Education Equity
  • Online Learning
  • Social Studies/History
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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