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.
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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

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Video Credits

Produced by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

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Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Susan Trifiletti's picture

The problem with online classes is that the high school student needs to be self-motivated ,disciplined and have great parental support. Too often though the students who attend trouble schools do not have the skills or the support to succeed. As I see it, this will be a tool for those students who live in the "desirable zip codes".

Gail Poulin's picture

Our district is not ready to go with an online program. It is just too new a concept for them and it will be years before it is recognized for its merit. I would like to create one weeks worth of online or flash drive material that students at the kindergarten level could work on during snow days. It is my hope that a demonstration of this online learning would open minds to the possibilities. Does this sound practical? doable? Where do I begin?

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

[quote]I would like to create one weeks worth of online or flash drive material that students at the kindergarten level could work on during snow days. It is my hope that a demonstration of this online learning would open minds to the possibilities. Does this sound practical? doable? Where do I begin?[/quote]

Hi Gail -

We have a resource page in this package filled with links of where to find online lessons for a traditional classroom, at every level. You may be able to find some short, manageable lessons for kindergartners from there.

Here's the link: Online Learning in the Traditional Classroom, or

Hope that helps!


Brett Wilie's picture

I am currently teaching a regular chemistry course and an honors chemistry course at our high school (private school). I record the lessons as Vodcasts (video podcasts) which capture what's on the screen as I write and lecture. I insert video and other enhancements. The beauty of this system is while the students still physically attend class as normal, things are reversed. They watch the Vodcast lessons for homework and then attend class and work on the assignments. I am now a tutor instead of a performer to a board audience. The class is also self paced (with weekly expectations which result in weekly progress grades). The students take tests online using Moodle and must demonstrate a level of mastery before being allowed to move to the next topic (unit). It requires the students to become responsible for their own learning, and I am there to guide them and assist them as needed. The true definition of a teacher/mentor.

This is somewhat similar to online classes in that the material is delivered by online video (Vodcasts). It differs in that I still physically meet with the students. However, I am beginning to experiment using technology such as webinars and online forums, chat rooms, etc to help conduct the "classroom" portion online rather than in the brick and mortar building.

Chickenchaser's picture

Oh boy::):) I learned recently that tutors in India will guide and teach kids in the U.K. via the internet. This reminds me of the potential that privately owned PCs possess worldwide. Too often, however, they are downgraded to games and the like while they have the ability to help a student soar through curricula.

Michael Longstreth's picture
Michael Longstreth
I'm a student teacher starting a career in elementary & secondary education

Video Blog 2: Susan Patrick: Why online learning is a smart solution
Online learning is not the answer to the education disparity in the United States; relatively, it is a tool that schools can use to educate children. Keeping in mind the variety of learners or climate of the classroom, online learning provides schools with a multitude of professional support. Experienced teachers can teach in an individualize setting and can meet the needs of individual students who struggle during whole class instruction. I do not think that online learning replaces teachers, since teachers are not only informational vessels but emotional and intellectual support for students. Students need teachers who care about them in the classroom, like they need parents at home to instruct them with important cultural values and developmental knowledge which extends beyond cyberspace. I do not think technology replaces teachers nor online teachers replace classroom instructors. On the other hand, online learning, supplements students' knowledge and expands on what the teacher is teaching.

Jessica's picture
I am a mother of 4 and a college student learning teacher education.

Ms. Patrick I enjoyed your video. Currently I am a student at the Richard Stockton College of NJ taking Sharon Faith's, a technology teacher also at a local highschool, Instructional Technology class. I am new to the whole technology aspect in learning. Text books were only used in my curriculum where now digital devices prevail. You make good points in the success of the students learning and retaining their curriculum while teachers can be flexible in their time and more one on one with the students. Although this is being taught to me and I see it through my class studies, classrooms around the country and the world are implementing technology in the curriculum whereas my children do not have these technology driven lessons in their classes. Funding is simply not there and when I speak to elementary teachers they do not even know what I am talking about when mentioning tech tools. My last semester will be in the Spring of 2014 and hopefully by then our local area will be changing and moving in the right direction towards virtual education. Thank you.

Jon Ellis's picture
Jon Ellis
Co-Founder, Tutorhub

Absolutely agree with your point about engaging teachers who can only work part-time, and dont want to get wrapped up in the formal education system.

I too see online learning as the answer to a series of problems, e.g. collaborative student working and catching up when they start to fall behind.

Thank you for sharing with us Susan.


Zainab's picture
K-12 teacher from UAE, Dubai

Nice video, thank you Susen.
Currently, I am working as online teacher and enjoying my job to the top point.
I emphasize on the importance of face to face meetings with students on a regular base, as students really need it to feel engaged to their school and their classmates.

Zainab's picture
K-12 teacher from UAE, Dubai

Great, I like your way of teaching. I can imagine your classes as very successful classes.

I am looking for quizzes online program, I'll discover Moodle to see who it works. I would appreciate it if you can suggest me more websites.

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