Online learning for grades K -12 requires a different approach than that used for higher education or corporate training (Barth & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R., 2012). In traditional primary and secondary grades, students attend brick and mortar schools where certified teachers meet the state and federal standards (Barth, et al., 2012). If online learning is available it is often when a student is enrolled in a virtual campus that falls under the umbrella of public schools or private institutions that meet the requirements of the state and federal government (Beldarrain, 2006). However, there is a trend for using some form of online learning in grades kindergarten through twelve, whether that be a full-time online virtual academy or a blended form of eLearning and traditional classroom learning (Thornburg, 2012). Education futurist, Dr. David Thornburg, believes that technology is not in the future, but here now and evolving quickly to enhance education (Thornburg, 2012). Teachers will be able to focus on knowledge and understanding when information is provided through the Internet (Thornburg, 2012). Thornburg notes that students need teachers to help them determine what information is valid in this vast Internet of shared data and information for virtual schooling to be effective (Thornburg, 2012).
As of fall 2012, state virtual schools existed in 27 states in the U.S., enrolling approximately 275,000 full-time students in almost 620,000 courses (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013). Thirty-one states, including Washington D.C. have at least one virtual school that draws students from a statewide program, and not just a district located virtual school (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013). Some of these schools are funded through the state and others privately. While most states have utilized some online courses and blended courses, Florida has offered a full range of online programs as of 2004 (Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning.2013). States handle virtual school programs differently, some at the district level and others at the state level. Most often it has been offered only at the high school level; yet, there is a trend to include virtual K-12 schools (Clark, 2001).
The research on virtual schools is limited, but the eLearning, online learning trend is beginning to move from a ‘trendy’ educational alternative to a more substantial form of education and learning (Barth & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R., 2012). Even the definition of what a ‘virtual school’ is has been debated and delineated (Cavanaugh, Barbour, and Clark, 2009). Clark (2001) has categorized virtual schools into seven types; whereas, Watson, Winograd, and Kalmon (2004) have suggested five different categories. Cavanaugh, et. al, (2009) report on these varied definitions in their review of current research in K-12 eLearning. The following tables describe these categories:
(Cavanaugh, et. al, 2009).
Virtual schools for K-12 tend to be a replacement for the traditional school setting, appealing to homeschooling families, those living abroad with parents working out of the country, children in sports or film, and families that are unhappy with the assigned school district. For example, the virtual academy, K12, is accessible as a private virtual school or often part of a state run program or district option (Clark, 2001). Parents without the financial means to enroll their children in a private virtual school will gravitate to the option that is “free” and covered by the public school system. These district and state run programs are advancing, and becoming some of the standards for alternative education (Picciano, Seaman, Shea, & Swan, 2012). Students enrolled do not attend a brick and mortar type school, but log-on to their courses through the Internet where they engage in a synchronous classroom. The teacher is visible and can call on class members from those that are “present” in the virtual classroom. Students log -in where their names are listed, with options to raise their hands, speak, and talk with the instructor. The instructor explains coursework, answers questions, and interacts with students much as in a traditional format. Other material for the course is accessible through asynchronous technology. Science courses have labs where all materials are delivered to the student before the start of the course. Teachers and students collaborate on discussion boards, wikis, Skype, and whiteboards. Virtual classrooms are set-up through software such as Eluminate as part of the K12 virtual academy (Picciano, Seaman, Shea, & Swan, 2012).
Another trend in K-12 online learning is the blended classroom, which utilizes the traditional classroom setting as well as eLearning (Halverson, Graham, Spring, & Drysdale, 2012). In this trend, teachers interact with students in a typical classroom setting, but then students break up into groups to use the Internet for specific learning modules (Halverson, Graham, Spring, & Drysdale, 2012). Teachers can use visual technologies to explain difficult concepts better than the chalkboard and lecture method (Thornburg, 2012). Afterwards, the teacher and students can discuss the information in a manner to promote higher learning and thinking skills that utilize constructivist theories of learning (Thornburg, 2012). Schools that offer online or blended courses do so for a variety of reasons to meet the needs of students (Picciano, et. al, 2012). Some of these reasons include providing courses that are not available at the traditional high school, credit recovery, AP courses, reducing scheduling conflicts, preparing for 21st century career skills, extending the school day, building links with colleges, lack of certified teachers, financially beneficial, alleviate limited space, pedagogically beneficial, and to extend the school year (Picciano, et. al, 2012). The blended method of learning has been studied in a charter high school that tested this hybrid model where students attend class one day a week for four hours in a face-to-face situation (M. K. 1. Barbour & Plough, 2012). The teachers in this high school created a social network called ‘Odyssey of the Mind NING’ where they could interact with students that were enrolled in the blended online high school (Barbour, et. al, 2012). This platform provided a safer environment than the Facebook social network they first experimented with (Barbour, et. al, 2012). It also fulfilled the need for students to discuss ideas and collaborate on our projects while still being under the supervision of a teacher (Barbour, et. al, 2012). This study found that online social learning environments need to address the concerns of Internet safety and etiquette (Barbour, et. al, 2012).
Technology is driving the trends in online education and eLearning platforms are improving for a successful, pedagogical-based learning environment (Beldarrain, 2006). Synchronous and asynchronous learning is becoming part of the wave of technological advances, as students learn to interact in real-time and at their leisure (Beldarrain, 2006). There are advantages of asynchronous learning in that students can return to a demonstration or lecture, whereas in a live setting in a classroom this is not possible. Technology for online learning is having an impact on learning theory and challenging the older traditions of delivering information to a classroom of students sitting at their desks (Beldarrain, 2006).
Barbour, M. K. 1., & Plough, C. (2012). Odyssey of the mind: Social networking in cyberschool. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 13(3), 1-18. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=77482719&site=eds-live
Barth, P., & Hull, J. & St. Andrie, R. (2012). Searching for the reality of virtual schools. ().Center for Public Education National School Boards Association.
Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interraction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139.
Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and practice in K-12 online learning: A review of open access literature. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 10(1), 1-22. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=36875659&site=eds-live
Clark, T. (2001). A study of virtual schools in the united states. (). Illinois: Distance Learning Resource Network A WestEd Project.
Halverson, L. R., Graham, C. R., Spring, K. J., & Drysdale, J. S. (2012). An analysis of high impact scholarship and publication trends in blended learning. Distance Education, 33(3), 381-413. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2012.723166
Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning. (2013). Retrieved March 16, 2013, from http://kpk12.com
Picciano, A. G., Seaman, J., Shea, P., & Swan, K. (2012). Examining the extent and nature of online learning in american K-12 education: The research initiatives of the alfred P. sloan foundation. Internet & Higher Education, 15(2), 127-135. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.07.004
Watson, J. F., Winograd, K., & Kalmon, S. (2004). Keeping pace with K–12 online learning: A
snapshot of state-level policy and practice. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.