Opportunities abound with online learning

This week Fordham's newest board member Caprice Young is spending some time in Ohio and her visit could not be timed more perfectly. Caprice is President and CEO of City Prep Academies, a blended learning service provider, former CEO of KC Distance Learning (a leading provider of virtual courses), and also former President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association as well as President of the Los Angeles Unified School Board.

In other words, when it comes to figuring out how to foster new K-12 learning models on Ohio soil, there's literally not a better person out there to learn from than Caprice.

Yesterday's news headlines read almost as though Ohio reporters knew she was on her way. Dayton Daily News ran a piece about the exorbitant costs of college dropouts in Ohio ($300 million) and while the article didn't theorize much on the causes of these dropouts, the fact that many students leave high school unprepared and in need of serious remediation seems like one reasonable hypothesis (30 percent of students drop out of four-year programs after one year).

Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch article, ?Enrollment rises at online charter schools,? pointed out that despite a moratorium on new charter e-schools (installed five years ago) enrollment in online programs has risen by 46 percent, with 29,000 students now served by such programs.

There you have it: at least two reasons Ohio must rethink how we use technology in education, and embrace nontraditional, non brick-and-mortar models.

Consider the first point ? almost one in three students drop out of college after the first year. Caprice described ?blended learning? and its ability to serve kids on all ends of the bell curve ? those who are behind, those in the middle, and those gifted students for whom traditional schools are boring (she described her teenage self as the latter). For those students who haven't been well served by public schools ? such as those in a juvenile jail? online instruction is a cost-effective intervention that can bring them back up to speed. Caprice described one teen felon's attraction to one-on-one virtual learning: ?online, no one knows you're smart.? Online learning can break down these kinds of barriers for nontraditional students, help students who are credit deficient, and personalize instruction for those students who typically drop through the cracks.? (And of course it can reach kids on the other end of the spectrum, the gifted or at-risk-of-being-bored.)

The second point is that despite public policy that has thwarted innovation in Ohio and has closed the door to new, innovative virtual providers, there's evidence of rising demand for online programs. Almost 30,000 students are served by a virtual charter school. And if yesterday's meeting at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio is any indicator, district leaders have an appetite for innovative, alternative learning models.? Ohio's credit flexibility plan allows students to earn credit for distance learning, internships, community service, and other educational experiences (and doesn't require a standard amount of ?seat time?) ? an option that district staff in the room were buzzing about.

While undoing seat-time requirements and exploring hybrid models represent uncharted territory for most Ohio educators, there was general consensus that it's inevitable. This is the pathway down which education is headed ? and it's exciting. The possibilities for using online learning to improve student achievement are exponential, and we're not taking full advantage of it (yet). Further,?a proficiency or mastery-based model makes better sense for students (Caprice described one New Jersey district using such a model,) and districts should introduce online learning as an intervention for those students having trouble mastering content. This is good for students, and the messaging is much more palatable than introducing technology in a manner that frightens teachers (they may fear it will take their jobs).

Lastly, online learning ?unbundles? teachers' skills and is more efficient than current learning models. For example, teachers who are adept at teaching AP physics or statistics can teach those courses traditionally and in an online format (and reach hundreds more students) rather than teaching AP courses along with basic courses or myriad subjects, etc. And since the online program presents the content (in various modalities suited to kids), virtual teachers spend less time presenting content and more time explaining, trouble-shooting, and interacting one-on-one with students. Isn't this what parents and educators want more of?

- Jamie Davies O'Leary

More By Author