George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

Online Learning: Virtual Valedictory

Distance education goes mainstream.
September 2, 2007

PREDICTION: Online learning for students and teachers will grow exponentially.

In March 2006, Michigan took a giantstep forward in the world of onlinelearning. As a key component ofits new high school curriculum, thestate required that all public schoolstudents complete an online course beforegraduating. It was a bold move, signaling forthe first time a state's belief in the intrinsicvalue of online education.

"If Michigan is going to achieve economicgrowth, we must give all students thetools they need to succeed in college and theworkplace," Governor Jennifer M. Granholmdeclared shortly after the state legislature approvedthe new requirement. And with thestroke of her pen, every high school studentin the state must now take all or part of atleast one course online.

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The question now is, "WhereMichigan leads, will others follow?"

The last several years have been marked bynotable growth in the number and the popularityof online courses, especially for highschool students. Recently, for example, theSloan Consortium estimated that 700,000public school students were enrolled in oneor more online classes during the 2005-06school year. This figure does not necessarilyindicate a commitment to an alternativeway of teaching and learning; however, mostschools, school districts, and states have offeredonline courses as a cost-effective wayto address staffing and scheduling problems.But the paradigm may be changing, saysAnthony G. Picciano, coauthor with JeffSeaman of the organization's survey on K-12online learning.

Early adopters recognize the pedagogicalbenefits both of teaching and taking coursesonline, Picciano explains, and to appreciatethe role of online learning in developing well-roundedstudents. He points to the growthof blended classes, which combine onlineand in-class components, as an example of anew appreciation for the value of integratingvarying instructional approaches. Accordingto Picciano and Seaman's survey, two-thirdsof districts involved expect enrollment inblended courses to grow, and they predict a23 percent enrollment increase over the nexttwo years.

Just as acceptance of the value of onlinelearning for students is growing, the roleof virtual courses in continuing educationfor teachers is expanding. The NationalEducation Association and the AmericanFederation of Teachers now offer professional-developmentcourses online, including someof their most popular classes. For veteranteachers who've never experienced this typeof education, these forays into virtual learningmay be the key to increasing the numberof educators who teach this way, too.

What's Next > Politics

Roberta Furger is a contributing writer for Edutopia.

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