Online Not Necessarily On-Target for K-12 Students

Online learning has long been used quite effectively by colleges and universities around the world. But does the same technology work as well for K-12 students? As the United States sees an increase in virtual schools for elementary and secondary school students, questions about effectiveness continue to be raised. Do the answers bode well for online K-12 learning?

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Hard Times for Virtual Learning?

Some research has not shown any advantages to online learning as compared to a live classroom education. There have even been suggestions that online programs are nothing more than the result of spending less on teachers and brick-and-mortar schools. And in many cases full-time K-12 online students are not matching the success levels of their traditional counterparts.

So where is all of this leaving virtual learning for K-12 students?

For now, the jury's still out. Some applaud the efforts, others do not. Kevin G. Welner, co-author of a report about online schooling from the University of Colorado at Boulder, recently told Education Week, 'It's not that there aren't good things to be had or good things going on. It's publicly funded education, but without the usual safeguards that we attach to public education.'

Online K-12 Learning: The Good

Despite the criticisms and unfavorable reports, online learning does have its benefits for the more than one million K-12 students currently enrolled in one or more virtual classes. It is effective, for instance, when used for make-up courses. Some programs also offer Advanced Placement classes, which can help prepare students for college.

Virtual learning allows schools to expand course offerings and students to work at their own pace. In addition, online learning helps students to develop computer skills they can use later in increasingly technological workplaces.

Educators and companies that supply online learning programs say that many reports are conducted by third parties and that these can be misleading. Accountability is important, they say. 'It's really critical that we don't allow others to tell the story for us,' Andy Scantland, vice president of sales and marketing for Advanced Academics Inc., which provides online learning programs, told Education Week in November 2011.

The Negatives of Online Learning

Despite the benefits of online learning for K-12 students, some of which have even been acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education, the practice continues to come under fire. Much of the criticism of online learning for K-12 students comes from the fact that it is an area of education that is expanding rapidly...too rapidly, some believe.

Some opponents claim that online learning is a 'cheap' education and that many schools turn to it only to save money in the face of budget cuts. Gene V. Glass, another co-author of the University of Colorado at Boulder report and a senior researcher at the University's National Education Policy Center, went as far as to call online learning a 'hollow experience for kids'.

But the negatives are not deterring this method of learning from becoming more popular. In Memphis, students must take one virtual course before graduating. Recently, Idaho has proposed a requirement wherein high school students must take four or more online classes. Despite needing more regulation and higher achievement statistics, online K-12 learning, like so much technology out there, seems here to stay.

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