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A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Lessons from Online Education for Brick-and-Mortar Schools

Students in Computer Labby Jacquie McGregor

The Center for Education Reform reports that in 2000, approximately 45,000 students were enrolled in online learning programs nationwide. By 2011, almost 2,000,000 students enrolled in online learning through K-12 school districts, with an additional 275,000 enrolled in full-time online schools. This phenomenal increase in enrollment represents the advent of a new educational paradigm.

As a traditional classroom educator, the inclination can be to view online learning with trepidation or even anger. After all, the concept of online education physically removes the teacher from the process of learning. Information is transmitted and received electronically, and students do not have the opportunity to interact directly with either instructors or classmates. Consequently, many traditional teachers feel that online education is a disturbing shift in the educational model, one which removes the humanity from learning, leaving only the cold transmission of knowledge. However, this does not have to be the case.

Why learn online?

Students are attracted to online learning platforms for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Wider opportunities for learning
  • Greater course availability
  • Course credit recovery
  • The ability to learn at an individual pace
  • The excitement of working with up-to-date technological tools
  • The perception that online education is more relevant to today’s plugged-in students

Analyzing these reasons allows traditional educators and administrators an opportunity to have an honest conversation about how the needs of over two million American students are not being met by traditional classrooms. This opens up opportunities for new learning models, combining the face-to-face interactions of a brick-and-mortar classroom with the widespread reach, and contemporary modalities, of online learning.

Online education can open new educational doors

One of the major reasons cited by students and parents for entering the online learning arena is the ability to experience a wider range of subjects on a more personalized platform. Consequently, enterprising teachers and school districts are harnessing the benefits of online learning in a traditional setting. For example, with ever-shrinking budgets, many school districts are forced to make outdated textbooks and learning materials last longer. By bringing online learning into the classroom, teachers can use regularly-updated resources and school districts can invest in more relevant materials at a fraction of the cost.

Sites such as Khan Academy and Edgenuity provide fully developed online courses that can be incorporated into the traditional classroom. For students in need of credit recovery and supplemental coursework, districts can contract with a variety of institutions — typically colleges and universities — to offer students the chance to complete their education without the social stigma of spending extra years in a classroom environment. Some school districts have developed their own online charter schools aimed at connecting with students who are in need of alternate placement.

Online/offline hybrids

Another reason cited for the increase in online enrollment is the perception that online tools connect with today’s technology-savvy students. Traditional classroom teachers can benefit from using the platforms common to online education as a part of the in-class experience. Innovative educators are employing online tools like Google Maps to teach history and geography, Skype to allow students to connect on a global level, and avatars to teach characterization in literature. By using online devices in a traditional classroom, teachers can provide students with the relevancy they crave in the environment in which they are familiar.

New pathways to blended learning

Truly innovative methods for combining online and offline structures are beginning to surface as well. The concept of the flipped classroom represents one of the best examples of the blended classroom. In a flipped classroom, teachers use online tools to upload direct instruction videos that students view at home. Thus, the lecture portion of the lesson takes place outside the classroom. Students and teachers then use the classroom environment to engage in project-based learning and authentic assessment activities, allowing teachers more time to work one-on-one with students. In this way, the classroom becomes both an online and  offline venture, giving students the benefits of both worlds.

Online learning is no longer an educational experiment; it is a new paradigm that continues to shape education. Rather than view online schools as a threat, traditional teachers would be better served by bringing the benefits of technology into the classroom. As educators, we will always be one of the most important facets in successful learning; online learning can allow us to employ new methods for greater student success.

Jacquie McGregor has taught a wide variety of subjects in 15 years as an educator, including music, art, language arts and life skills. She currently works in online education as a course mentor, teacher and curriculum writer, at both the K-12 and university levels. She is completing her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focusing on arts programming in educational free markets.

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