George Lucas Educational Foundation

Anytime, Anywhere: Online Learning Shapes the Future

Schools and districts around the country are discovering the benefits of online learning: flexible scheduling, personalized learning, and expanded course offerings despite budget cuts. More to this story.
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Grace: Good morning, class, and welcome to Online Learning 101. In this short course, you'll discover why more students and school districts are taking advantage of online learning and what this could mean for you. Let's see, it looks like somebody is typing there. Yes, 45 out of 50 states now have an online learning program. Okay, so this is what it might look like if you were a student in an online class. Here's Robert Foster. He's a senior at Centerpoint Alternative High School in Caldwell, Idaho. He fell behind his freshman year and was at risk of dropping out. Now, he's taking classes from teachers at Centerpoint face to face and online classes to catch up.

Robert: I've taken quite a few classes, ranging anywhere from fitness to economics to government, and my goal is to graduate on time and to be able to go play college football.

Grace: In Las Vegas, Lauren Wu took AP courses she couldn't get at her local high school.

Lauren: Two classes aren't offered at my school, and the geopolitical economics is only offered through distance ed, so I have a chance to take advantage of that course.

Grace: And in Central Florida, the flexibility of online learning allowed [Amanda Gashaw] to work full-time and take community college classes while completing high school. Just like students, schools are finding lots of reasons to like online learning. Reason number one, it's personalized. Course content is available on demand so students can work at their own pace, and they develop close one-on-one relationships with their teachers.

Jhone: Online curriculum allows the student if they have a question to go ahead and email the teacher right then and not wait their turn, as you do in a regular classroom. So the teachers and the students both feel that there's more communication in an online classroom when they're not physically sitting together than they do in a face-to-face classroom with a teacher and 35 students.

Grace: Reason number two, online learning levels the playing field.

Benjamin: And without online classes, the students in Notus, Idaho will not get the same opportunity to be successful as a kid in Boise, Idaho. There's a distinct inequity in that fact, that kids in small schools have fewer teachers who have fewer certifications. We think that students at Notus should have the exact opportunities, the same credits, and the same challenges that are going to get them to excel in their future life.

Grace: Reason number three, money. Robert Foster's school, Centerpoint, was so strapped for cash last year that it cut its math department entirely. Now, Centerpoint offers math classes online, costing the school just 75 dollars per student per course, and there's the impact on teacher shortages, present and future.

Susan: 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 can even offer physics, so how are you going to do that? We can offer online classes.

Grace: Online learning fosters the kind of skills students needs to succeed in the 21st century-- fluency with technology, online communication, and self-directed learning.

William: The students are going to be able to use technology much more easily and readily than ever before, not only taking full online courses but taking parts of courses online so that you would have what they call blended, having teachers in the regular classrooms teaching face to face with their students for part of the time and using the technologies, where appropriate, to enhance and improve the quality of courses.

Teacher: So you can call me…

Student: Okay.

Teacher: … whenever it's flexible for you.

Grace: Of course, there's still plenty of room to improve online learning.

[Holly]: Okay, you can keep going.

Grace: For one thing, many teachers find it tough to have kids in far-flung places work together.

Holly: In terms of designing lessons where they have to work together, that's a little more challenging because part of the reason they came to online school was to be able to work when they wanted to work, but I think that's the next stage, maybe two point 0, of online education is to figure out how to really fit that in and make it an inherent part of the curriculum.

Grace: Still, online learning is a powerful strategy. Early research has found that students perform as well or better in online versus face-to-face environments, so it's probably coming to a classroom near you.

Benjamin: Online or blended learning models are going to be a commonplace in the future of education in Idaho and across the United States. The funding formulas are going to force administrators and educators to look outside of the box.

Grace: Okay, so that wraps up our introduction to online learning. In the materials here on, you'll find resources and tips from teachers on how to make the most of virtual education. And if you have any questions, I'll be available by e-mail after class. Just kidding.

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

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Video Credits

Senior Producer / Narrator

  • Grace Rubenstein


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Executive Producer

  • Ken Ellis

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

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Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Donald Matts's picture

What is the liklihood on-line learning will be created for students who have both physical and learning disabilities?

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture


You raise a great question. While we haven't specifically covered online learning for students with disabilities, we do have a great video about how technology in general is changing the face of education for students with physical disabilities, and giving them new opportunities. Check it out here: Assitive-Technology: Enabling Dreams.

I'd harbor a guess that the personalization that online learning allows makes it particularly suitable to adapting for physically- and learning-disabled kids. Anyone out there have any experience with this?


Margaret L. Freeman's picture

I am particularly interested in learning about effective new technologies that would facilitate teaching transition skills to a high-school Special Ed population. I have been teaching Special Ed for over 30 years, and this topic has been mandated by the California IEP protocol.

Dragos Fulea's picture

Online education has many advantages but one major disadvantage. The practical facet of an educational process is not fullfiled. How can I explain a student for example the social interaction on social networking without running a 101 application in a classroom?

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