Despite a growing interest in online learning among students, the availability of online classes in K-12 schools and districts hasn’t kept pace with the demand, according to a new report from Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc.

According to the report, more than 40 percent of sixth through 12th graders have researched or demonstrated interest in taking a course online, but only 10 percent have actually taken an online course through their school. Meanwhile, 7 percent of middle school students and 4 percent of high school students instead have pursued opportunities outside their school to take online courses–underscoring the disconnect between the supply and demand for online learning in today’s schools.

What’s more, a majority of school principals, 58 percent, say the online classes currently offered in their districts are primarily for teachers; just 31 percent say the classes are primarily for students. Additionally, while a third of teachers have taken an online course for professional development–a 57-percent increase from 2007–only 3 percent of teachers say they’ve taught a class online, a number that has not changed in three years. Just 13 percent of teachers say they’re interested in teaching online, a considerable mismatch with the growing student desire to learn online.

The findings are included in the report “Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update,” which offers a further analysis of data from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up initiative, an annual survey that has collected and reported on the views of more than 335,000 K-12 students, parents, and educators in the United States about online education and 21st-century learning.

“While many of our nation’s K-12 schools clearly recognize the advantages of online learning and instruction in teacher professional development, there remains a lag in utilizing this technology for student achievement,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “Educators must embrace these emerging technologies to enhance student learning and fully prepare today’s students for future success.”

School administrators cited funding and teacher preparation as key barriers to offering expanded access to online courses, with 22 percent reporting that online learning was not a funding priority in their district. Some administrators said their teachers are not comfortable using the tools (18 percent) or teaching online (17 percent), are reluctant to try (14 percent), or their school does not have the expertise to create online courses (14 percent).

The report suggests that K-12 students want to pursue online learning to gain more control of their own learning experience, have access to more courses, and work at their own pace. But middle and high school students continue to have different priorities for taking online classes, the report says: Older students were most likely to desire online classes to earn college credit, while younger students would pursue online learning to get extra help in a subject.

When asked why learning through an online class might make school more interesting, 47 percent of nine through 12th graders, 39 percent of six through eighth graders, and one in four third through fifth graders said they want to learn online to “be in control of my learning.” Students don’t expect courses to be easier online, but they do expect the online format to make it easier for them to succeed, because they can review materials when they want and are more comfortable asking teachers for help.

When asked, “What is the one thing that you would do to improve schools to ensure that all students had the skills they needed to be successful in life,” a 10th-grade student from Alcoa High School in Tennessee responded, “I would provide personal laptops for each student and provide online classes. Every school does not have all the classes a student is interested in, and online classes [provide] another option.”

Project Tomorrow and Blackboard released their report June 30 at the 2009 National Educational Computing Conference in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with a panel discussion about online learning.

Panelists included Maribeth Luftglas, chief technology officer for Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, and Rod Carnill, technology resource specialist for Virginia’s Frederick County Public Schools.

When asked what advice she would give to school leaders about starting online-learning programs in their own schools, Luftglas said support is key, adding: “Don’t even try online learning if you don’t have the infrastructure, support, and training in place” to sustain it.

Links:

Project Tomorrow

Blackboard Inc.

“Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update”


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