Student demand for online learning creates gap

By Author Profile Photo Michigan Virtual

LANSING –While online learning and virtual schools continue to grow annually, a recent study shows that educators aren’t prepared for the number of students who want to learn online. A national study tracked the growing student demand for online learning and how schools are meeting that demand. The study found that “almost half of 6-12th graders have researched or are interested in taking an online class” and “more than 40% believe that online classes should be part of an ideal school, yet only one in ten 6-12th graders have taken an online class through their school.”

In fact, the study revealed that “students openly acknowledge that they have to ‘power down’ when they enter the schoolhouse and then ‘power back up’ to resume their techno-infused lives outside of school. Access to technology has empowered students to become ‘free agent learners,’ and as such, they are less dependent upon traditional education institutions for knowledge acquisition.”

The study, “Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update,” collected data in 2008 from more than 335,000 K-12 students, educators, administrators and parents across the nation and was part of the Speak Up project. The project was conducted by Project Tomorrow®, a national educational nonprofit organization, and Blackboard® Inc, a leading provider of online learning solutions. You can read the entire 2009 Trends Update in the “Articles/Reports” section.

Despite the study’s contention that educators aren’t ready for online learning, in Michigan the commitment to online learning is strong. Michigan became the first state in the nation in 2006 to require that students take an online educational experience in order to graduate. The Center for Digital Education last year ranked Michigan second, behind Florida, for online learning policy and practice.

“Today’s education system is experiencing explosive growth with the use of online learning as an effective delivery models at all levels,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, President and CEO of Michigan Virtual®, the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual™. “It’s critical to our state both academically and economically that we continue to deliver essential resources to Michigan schools that meet students’ desire to learn online and prepare educators to teach in online formats.”

According to the Speak Up study results, when asked to imagine their dream school, “middle and high school students were twice as likely as adults to select online learning as a technology with the greatest positive impact on learning.” It’s not just students who are clamoring for more online learning opportunities. The Speak Up project findings revealed that “teachers who have taught online classes overwhelmingly agree on the advantages: 76% believe that online learning benefits students by putting them in control of their own learning.” To “be in control of my learning” was the top reason cited by students who were asked why online learning might make school more interesting.

In addition to enjoying the personal control and flexibility of online learner, students say online courses are of high quality. Over 80% of the spring students surveyed by the Michigan Virtual thought the quality of their online courses was the same as or better than their traditional courses. The survey also showed many students were enrolling in online coursework to resolve scheduling conflicts at their schools and to study topics of personal interest that were not available through their local schools.

Michigan students and teachers have a number of opportunities to learn online. Michigan Virtual provides access to the Michigan Virtual and its catalog of courses that meet the standards of the Michigan Meriti Curriculum. Michigan LearnPort®, a virtual professional development portal for teachers, offers educators the chance to earn State Board – Continuing Education Units online, including courses that will help educators in teaching to the new state standards. Today, Michigan Virtual offers more than 200 high school courses, enrollment has spiraled upward from about 100 students in the 1999-2000 school year to an expected 18,000 students in 2009-2010, and the school has provided more than 64,000 online course enrollments to Michigan middle- and high-school students over the past 10 years.

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