Online learning has also become an integral part of higher education, but many of its innovations in higher ed have come after they have appeared in the K-12 sector. Florida Virtual School, which was founded in 1997, became the first state-wide, online public school in the nation. The school was designed to build a new type of education for students who were not being well-served by the public school systems. The growth was tremendous. “In the first year, there were only 77 students enrolled in online courses. FLVS enrolled more than 70,000 middle and high school students during the 2008-09 school year” (Mackey & Horn, 2009, pg. ii).
Reminder: be sure to take good notes and provide reflections in your journal! Think of it as Carnegie Notes plus personal reflections as to how it connects to your career, your prior experience, etc.
Florida Virtual School has participated in many investigations into the efficacy of online learning. Most recently, they have invested heavily in educational gaming – partnering with an educational gaming company 360ED to create an immersive learning game called Conspiracy Code. Students playing the game adopt the personas of a girl and boy “whose missions are to save pieces of American History from corruption. The two groups have built assessment and project-based components into the game, which launched in June 2009” (Mackey et al, 2009, p. 17).
Online and hybrid courses are a critical part of the higher education landscape, particularly at the community college and state university level. Online learning has also recently become the province of top tier institutions who have adopted the philosophy of sharing quality content openly.
In community colleges, online and hybrid courses are the norm rather than the exception. “In 2008, 97 percent of 2-year institutions were offering online courses – compared with only 66 percent of all post-secondary institutions” (Community College Research Center, 2013, p. 1). This isn’t exactly a revelation, considering the intersection of the community college’s mission of access, and the literal access provided by a modality that is technology-leveraged and asynchronous. Though this statistic is firmly placed in the “well, duh” category, some other, more alarming statistics accompany it. That same report from the Teachers’ College at Columbia University indicates that students are more likely to withdraw from online classes and perform more poorly, particularly in developmental coursework (Community College Research Center, 2013).
These statistics tell an interesting story, particularly placed contextually in the development of the modalities associated with distance learning. Is it indeed that our students perform more poorly in online courses because of their online modality? Or is it that we’re just not as good at teaching online as we are teaching face-to-face because we’ve had significantly less experience in it? It should be noted that this particular study focused on two state-wide community college systems, and that multiple previous research studies and overall surveys found that online learning is as effective as face-to-face learning at student outcomes, and that hybrid learning actually has better outcomes than both (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, p. xviii).
Currently, online learning is a major part of the higher education landscape, typically accounting for around 30% of the FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) of enrollments in state universities and community colleges. Private liberal arts colleges (with some notable exceptions) have not significantly invested in online learning, and the Ivy League schools are mainly approaching online learning from a beneficent perspective – giving their (allegedly superior) content away for free. Of course if you want to go and actually get credit from one of those Ivy Leaguers, you’ll spend massive cash for the privilege.
For-profit colleges and universities have generally been quite aggressive in creating and enrolling students in online courses and programs. Generally these schools have a greater degree of control over their actual content because they don’t have true academic freedom concerns. In some ways the standardization of the classes is a good thing, in other ways a bad thing.
How does the institution you are working at use distance learning? Are there online courses? Primarily hybrid? Is the LMS (Learning Management System) used primarily as a document repository? Are rich interactions between students ongoing online?