Teachers are experimenting with online learning in a way that will lead to improved, blended learning environments in schools. Resulting improvements in on-campus education are likely to outshine the benefits of purely online learning systems. Online learning alone is unlikely to capture the special qualities of high-quality teaching: the deep teacher-student relationship, the vibrancy of a learning cohort, and the richness of a group experience.
What reasons do proponents offer for the rise of online learning?
1. Rapid early adoption
Yes, early adoption of online learning has been rapid, but that in no way ensures that online learning will supplant place-based learning. Like other innovations, online learning is likely to follow a typical adoption curve through phases of early enthusiasm, disillusionment with shortcomings, and then an adoption plateau that meets a specific niche need. How large will the niche be? That is to be determined. Online learning is more likely to exist alongside place-based learning than supplant it.
Source: Mike Slinn
2. Examples of effective content delivery and adaptive assessment systems
Khan Academy in particular has caused a stir in the independent school community. Many advocate “flipping” instruction so that students watch instructional videos at home and do group practice and discussion and school. Yes, lecturing during class time is not the most effective mode of content delivery. Online content delivery systems should put an end to classroom-based content delivery. However, Khan Academy has more potential to enhance education when a great teacher incorporates it into a course than on its own. Even Khan’s adaptive testing and practice system will fall short compared to the adaptive skills of an experienced teacher working directly with a student.
3. Economies of scale
This argument proposes that online education can deliver content and skills practice so much more cheaply than traditional schools. However, online schools are quickly finding out that providing quality online instruction actually takes more effort and time than an in-person class, because of the barriers of time and space in online systems.
So what will happen?
I doubt that we can accurately predict where online learning will end up. However, the effect on classroom instruction is clear. Arguments for online learning apply equally well to blended learning environments without giving away the high value of face-to-face instruction. Online learning will be most effective as an addition to, not a replacement of, classroom-based instruction. Encouraging teachers to try teaching online will improve their toolkits for blended, school-based instruction. Encouraging students to take a few online courses to complement their school-based programs will enhance their school experiences. Online learning may become the primary mode of education for a niche market, home schoolers, competitive athletes and artists, children in remote locations, and other special circumstances.