From examining the information offered on the current condition of research on K-12 online schooling, I gathered that many variations exist in the design, instruction, facilitation, purpose, and content of online instruction. Even though some grounds have been broken and some strides made, online learning is largely in its infancy.
For all intents and purposes, it appears that questions being asked currently are not posited correctly. We are redirected to ask the right questions that will allow us to examine critically (and legitimately) the available information about K-12 online education.
To the point, there are four questions that will guarantee securing us more productive efforts and discoveries as we delve into attempting to gauge the success and growth of online learning. We must 1) ask the right questions; 2) answer the critics [legitimate and illegitimate ones]; 3) appreciate the complexity of online education; and 4) understand the resources available and unique to online learning.
By channeling our attention to the right questions, we can begin to determine under what conditions online learning works. It is apparent that it is working by evidence of its explosion at all levels. Backed by this growing (astronomical growth, really), we need to focus our attention on exploring the conditions under which online learning has been successful thus far. We need to examine instructor preparation, course offerings, and course tailoring to specific students and their career goal.
On a personal level, I enrolled at an online university to begin my doctor of philosophy degree. What impressed me the most was that after I completed the career survey and specified what I would like to accomplish and do after my advanced degree journey, the university tailored my plans into a unique area of concentration. I felt valued, appreciated, and individualized.
Unfortunately, the university did not accept student loan or the student loan establishment would not recognize the university as an entity for its financial aid disbursement purposes. I ended up trying to find another institution and hoped that the new one would carve out a major based on my future needs and career aspirations. I am still searching for that specific degree concentration as opposed to the one-size-fits-all or fits most that generally exists in most post-secondary institutions.
Surprises and Confirmations
What surprised me was the use of the phrases legitimate and illegitimate criticisms in the body of literature provided for this activity. As I try to overlook the negative connotation in the latter term, I also bristle at the idea that just because I do not hold a high degree or expertise in online learning does not make my criticisms illegitimate.
By virtue of having been in the K-12 education arena for almost three decades, I consider my opinions legitimate as they concern the welfare/wellbeing of our K-12 students as we explore the largely uncharted area of online learning. I maintain my concern for their socialization skills, which continues to be an issue even for the face-to-face students who spend most of their time outside of the classroom in front of stationary objects (vis-à-vis, gaming consoles and the television). Their parents’ presence notwithstanding, these students need socialization skills and continue to give rise to the rate of obesity even as they attend traditional schools and engage in the 50-minute mandated daily physical education activities. I knew a mother who prided herself with buying all the latest gaming consoles for her young son as soon as they are introduced into the market.
Before my eyes, the boy kept growing rounder with each passing week to the point that I could not keep silent any longer and strongly recommended that she enroll him in an after-school sports event. She did, and he shed all those belaboring pounds from the demands of little league baseball. That is my concern for the larger K-12 student population whether they are homeschooled, “face-to-face schooled,” or online schooled and whether their parents are at home with them or not.
For confirmation, I know we are making impressive strides in online education as more states and more choices become available to our students and their future. I have never feared that online education machinery will replace the instructor. Students need guidance, structure, set goals and objectives, and other pedagogical requirements to help them as they explore the unfamiliar territory of online learning.
I know the amount of research continues to increase even as we need more latitudinal ones more so than longitudinal ones at this time. By their nature, longitudinal studies are financially and time consuming; some of it exists. However, we need more of them. Obviously, what we need are comparative studies of a lateral nature that will help us to determine how online learning is succeeding, under what conditions, and for what particular set of students.
Granted, self-motivated students and advanced placement students (by virtue of their intellect and personality dynamics) have shown marked success in online learning. Unfortunately, the majority of the student population is not composed of these two sections. The majority of the K-12 population (if you will forgive the label) falls under the “regular” education category.
Not to oversimplify the list of achievements in education, but something of a transformative nature has to be done to open opportunities inherent in online learning to that biggest section (regualar education) whether using the blended format or another format. The door needs to be opened wider for the regular education population and a better assessment of online learning’s success needs to be determined.