March 11, 2011

Districts searching for a path to online learning

The ongoing discussion of what constitutes online learning at the district level continues as superintendents try to develop a strategy for their districts. Based on statements from a broad range of school district superintendents attending the recent AASA (American Association of School Administrators) conference in Denver, those interviewed noted they were doing ‘quite a bit in online,’ usually in computer-based training or in self-paced study, sometimes with a teacher and sometimes not. The debate over the definition of an online experience still crops up within the virtual school community, and at the district level there is far more confusion and often only a vague understanding of what online courses can and should be.

Even more confusing was the use of the term blended learning by superintendents, who often confuse the term with online learning, at least in the way that each is defined by the virtual school community. However, there are many publications and high-quality research papers on blended learning (including The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning from the Innosight Institute); it is critical that they find their way into the hands of enterprising superintendents searching for a greater understanding of online and blended learning.

Superintendents and educational technology directors are bombarded with solicitation from education providers in ever increasing numbers, paralleled only by the increasing pressure to join the online revolution – all with limited budgetary options. District level administrators are often faced with the dilemma of making decisions regarding online learning offerings with little or no concrete knowledge of the issues and quality standards surrounding online learning.

A number of superintendents noted that they have a close working relationship with their state virtual schools, while others are looking for solutions within their districts that provide more local control. Many are looking to address immediate challenges such as credit recovery and accelerated learning opportunities. Regardless of the definition, districts are venturing into online and blended learning as a solution to immediate challenges. The time is approaching when this effort will take on a longer-term perspective, and again force the definition of online and blended learning to evolve.

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