Online Learning – Another Misguided Mandate

blog post

Idaho recently became the fourth state to add an online learning requirement for students to graduate from high school.  As is typical with these types of bureaucratic decisions, this initiative makes for great headlines but its impact on student learning remains questionable.

There’s a big rush to add online learning opportunities for students without really defining what quality online learning looks like.  This really comes as no big surprise when our country struggles so mightily with what quality learning looks like.  In addition, we are continuing with our premise that if it is good for one student then we must ensure that all students partake.   We are so fortunate to be living in a day and age where we have different options for different learners. Why do we keep harping on the one-size-fits-all approach?

Instead of online learning, we should be focusing on connected learning and showing our students how to building a learning network that connects them with people who are passionate about things that they want to learn more about.  Our students need to know how to connect and build networks within our communities and globally, depending on their needs.

Personally, I love the potential of on-line learning. But if that means having one teacher meeting with a group of kids in an online space to disseminate information, we are wasting our time and energy.

Why don’t we just mandate learning?  Embrace the many pathways available and let the students choose their route.

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  1. Patrick.
    As an administrator at a relatively large virtual school, I agree with your sentiment regarding mandating online learning. In the years I have been associated with virtual education I have learned that virtual coursework can and does play an important role in many students lives, but I also readily acknowledge that it is not perfect for every student, thus should not be mandated for all.

    I am a big believer in public education. Likewise, I am a big believer in high quality virtual education, but I have always thought of virtual options as just that, options for students to be publicly educated. They provide alternate pathways for students to meet graduation requirements, explore passions, extend their learning, and take courses that are not available at their local school. But, like you said, the learning is what needs to be mandated. The forms, venues, and pathways need to flexible enough to meet the needs of individual students. When we mandate those, we institutionalize not personalize school for students.

    November 16, 2011
  2. David Truss said:

    Bravo to both of you! I’ve just started working in the online learning world and also think that mandating this is not an answer to anything! I agree it should be about choice, but the other reality is that most online learning is still facilitated in clunky learning management systems that make it easier for teachers to follow a set path rather than really engaging students… the tools hinder creativity.

    That doesn’t mean that creative things can’t be done online, but at this point in time, the only way a whole State could implement something like this is to create cookie-cutter courses, and so not only is this a bad idea, but it also promotes poor teaching and un-engaging learning.

    Besides, blended learning is the way of the future… not strictly online learning.

    Great point about States (and School Districts here in Canada) needing to focus on connected learning as opposed to online learning.

    November 16, 2011
  3. Jess said:

    I agree about the drawbacks of how cookie cutter online courses for whole states can be. It drives me insane that at my online school every class of the same subject is exactly the same. And we bought curriculum without teacher input that was pretty awful. I think online options could be so exciting. For English I always envision very unique courses that are on a range of topics so students can mix and match units according to interests. Having teachers who are excited about focusing on creating this one unit would mean a better curriculum than what is created when they are rushing to do everything for English 12 or 11 or whatever. It also means students who are more comfortable with topics that teachers sometimes fear to teach because of a few vocal parents can have the choice happen on the student and families part separate from the classroom.

    November 16, 2011
  4. Sue Densmore said:

    I have three words for you, which apply to all education mandates:

    Follow the money.

    Mark this: The online learning trend – at least at the level where it gets mandated – is one more way to circumvent teachers and the unions that still fight for them and save money on what they all think is too big a budget.

    Mandating online classes is ridiculous. Just another case of the “reformers” missing the whole point!

    November 16, 2011
    • Sue – I am glad that you, especially as union leader, see this clearly. The push by states to adopt on-line formats is surely a long range movement to cut back on costs and reduce teaching positions. Our students need access to technology in their learning environments coupled with caring adults who are willing to use these tools to help our students create, collaborate, and connect with others. I am a firm believer in the phrase by Sugata Mitra that says “any teacher that can be replaced by technology should be.”

      Our kids need both! But we as the adults in the school need to make sure that we are evolving as learners and modeling for our students and our communities how learning is changing and how exciting this can be!

      November 16, 2011
    • Jess said:

      Yeah, I’m sure in my above example that the school owner’s friend had just developed some curriculum they wanted to sell, so our district became a buyer. We use absolutely none of it in our course, despite being mandated to do so. The design is all boring and the same and the power points look like someone from the 90’s designed them with some word art.

      November 17, 2011
  5. Why don’t we just mandate learning? Well said, my friend. I’m a Michigan resident and a teacher here in one of the other states to mandate online learning. I’m completely clueless about the rules and requirements. I don’t know if schools are providing the online learning themselves or contracting out. I’m afraid it’s being contracted out, which makes me kind of nervous. It all just seems like adding tech and online learning for the sake of saying “look how ’21st century’ we are.” And that’s never a good thing.

    Great post, Patrick. Thanks for writing it and for all that you share with the world.


    November 23, 2011
  6. Great info and straight to the point. I am not sure if this is actually the best place to ask but do you people have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thanks in advance 🙂

    December 1, 2012

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