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« Tech and trust | Main | Carving out responsibility »

Three beliefs about online learning

I was pleased to be asked to serve on our state's Online and Digital Learning Council. This small group's primary responsibility is to advise the Commissioner of Education and the state legislature on what laws should govern the rapidly growing learning opportunities for student provided online. 

I wish I could say I bring lots of expertise to this council. Other members have led, or are leading, online schools - public, charter, and private. Still others head their district's online learning initiatives or work for intermediate service agencies that offer support for school online programs. I am one of the two, I believe, representatives who actually work in a public school district. I hope I will bring a perspective that serves our district students well. 

From my experience, from my readings, and from conversations with my district's excellent online learning facilitator, I going into this work with three main beliefs:

1. Online learning creates opportunities for my district's students and that is a very good thing. Online classes can provide students classes our district cannot. It can make learning work with unusual work schedules or other demands that make attending school from 8-4 difficult. Online learning may work better with some students' learning styles. And if there are options for learning, a few teachers may be put on notice because of the competition. All good for our kids.

2. Online learning needs to be regulated to make sure it adheres to state standards for both content and rigor. While schools can and should offer as many different learning opportunities as possible to their students, they also have an obligation to make sure that those opportunities are of high quality. Online learning needs to be aligned to state standards and it needs to offer the same level of rigor as F2F classes. We don't need kids taking online classes because they are easier or less work. 

3. Every class ought to be a blended class. Online materials, activities, social/collaborative tools, and enrichment resources should be a part of every class - K-12. To make sure this happens, we need funding for teacher training, adequate bandwidth and content management systems, and the ability to provide devices to access this stuff for all kids. 

I am not sure whether online learning will be a "disruptive" technology or not (See Avoid The Hype: Online Learning's Transformational Potential) - nor do I really worry much about that description. Too many educational reformers set about trying to instigate "disruptions" when I believe the real ones happen, like earthquakes or volcanoes, from natural forces we have no control over. 

My goal is to see that education effectiveness for our kids is improved, whether through supplementing traditional educational institutions and practices or through providing completely new means. 

Readers, what things do Minnesota's Commissioner of Education and Legislature need to know about Online learning?

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Reader Comments (3)

Great post! I am in my third year of teaching U.S. History to 11th grade students. For the most part I have enjoyed the experience, reading, writing, art analysis, and discussion are all a part of the class. Comments from students are amazing, not having to see eyes roll, listen to snide remarks or see outright hostility if you speak in class gives many students the opportunity to expand their comments and provide deep analysis of an issue. Down-side, class sizes must be manageable so the instructor can keep in contact (I'm over 1400 contacts at end of first nine weeks with 90 hours of work on the class, 34 students) and guidelines for who can enroll in the class should be developed. I have found those students with GPA's under 2 (4 point scale) are rarely successful (seems if they won't work with a teacher present they won't work when one isn't standing over them). I use a survey but students struggle with being honest about themselves. There is a place for online education at the secondary level (all college bound should take at least 1) but it should never be the only way.

October 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRich Schurter

Concerning your third belief - are not all classes blended? I have a high school freshman and high school senior attending school this year, and I cannot think of a single assignment that does not require some kind of technology. This is not to say that they are able to use technology - but that they are REQUIRED.

I know that this might not seem correct, but I have seen it first hand. Even math classes, which are still mostly textbook / paper / pencil there are numerous places that both of my daughters need to access to complete assignments.

And if this is the case, why is there still so little discussion, training, assessment and review of teachers and their technology use - since they require it for their students?

October 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Rich,

Thanks so much for this comment.

You are dead-on about the need for small online class sizes. One of the surprises I had teaching college classes online is that every student saw me as a personal tutor! I spent a lot more time online in one-to-one teaching/conferencing/commenting than I think I ever did in F2F classes. Those who see online as a cost savings measure are dead wrong. Class sizes have to be manageable in this environment!


Hi Kenn,

I would like to think all teachers in all classes are using technology to enhance their classrooms, but I am not convinced this is the case. Your kids must attend a pretty good school!


October 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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