Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Online Learning Question

In my last post I expressed some concerns about online learning. John Sowash asked why, and I started to respond, but my answer got too long. Better to just put it in its own post!

He also references a post I haven't read yet, but you might want to look at:
Clayton Christenson, author of Disrupting Class, put up a new post recently in which he says that online learning is continuing to expand rapidly in the K-12 sector:
Regarding the role of online learning: I think it is fabulous for people who can't learn any other way--for instance, kids in northern Alaska wouldn't have good access to advanced science classes without online learning. Soldiers on duty around the world can now pursue college courses. And I imagine that online learning works really well for highly motivated students in any location. (Those students, of course, can probably learn under most conditions, so they may not be a good sample.) If you are motivated to (for example) learn Portuguese, and you live in northern Michigan, then an online course may be the best way to go (or the next best, after being an exchange student).
On the other hand--my daughter's friend had the experience this year of signing up for an online course to replace her 10th grade English class. She told my daughter she wouldn't do it again. Even though she is a high-performing student, she found that she was not motivated enough to do the work regularly.
Most of the studies of online learning, to date, have been done with highly motivated students. I predict that as you open the doors to less motivated students, you will see diminishing returns. It's a lot harder to identify, and motivate, slacker students in an online class. It may also be hard for students who find material difficult to get the additional help they need.

As for this prediction:
I believe that a hybrid model will emerge as the most effective solution. Students will go to school 2-3 days a week and work from home the other days. This will save districts a tremendous amount of money in heating, electricity, busing, and janitorial services.

From a parent's perspective: I have no doubt that there is a lot of interest on the part of school administrators for the very cost-saving reasons that you mention. Nonetheless, as the parent of three children, two of whom are teenagers, this makes me feel very queasy. Don't we already know that the most likely time for kids to get in trouble is after school, before parents are home from work? Aren't most high schools even afraid to create "open campuses" (students can leave school during open blocks) instead of "closed campuses" (students are restricted from leaving) for fear of the students getting into trouble? If I were to leave my kids home all day while I was at work, five days a week, year round, I would spend the whole day worrying about them.  How would I ensure that they were doing their work, and not (best case scenario) sleeping until noon? Worst case scenario? Alcohol, weed, sex... As far as I am concerned, that old quote, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" has a lot of currency--even though I don't believe in the devil!

And let's think about the costs to families: Am I then responsible for making sure that each child in my house has a computer? That the house has a working printer? That I have a reasonable-speed cable or DSL connection? Essentially, that is a transfer of costs to me--and that may not be feasible for poorer families.

Last, but not least, there is a philosophical question: do we want kids tied to the computer all day? I have one child who loves it, and would probably learn well that way, one child who is agnostic about it, and one child who hates time on the computer.

I'm not saying that these problems are unsolvable. I'm just saying that they haven't yet been solved.

1 comment:

  1. There's one more thing I forgot about until after I posted this--for teachers, online teaching might not be such a boon. I think you could run online teaching with one teacher for a much larger group of students--with perhaps the computer doing the bulk of the grading, and/or having lower-paid graders. That would likely put downward pressure on teacher salaries by making an already-crowded field even more crowded.