Current data is misleading, referring to any and all instruction that occurs via the Internet as “online learning” when much of the instruction is nothing more than scanned copies of materials used in the traditional classroom. The term “online learning” has been muddied as those claiming to use the medium either do not understand the qualitative difference between traditional classroom instruction and online instruction, or they claim use of technology in order to fulfill administrative requirements for such, without providing authentic online instruction. Lack of training for innovative, thoughtful, and creative use of technology often stymies effective teaching online.
Online education powerfully combines aspects of distance learning and open learning with the expertise of an experienced online instructor who guides the learning process. Distance learning is generally defined as any mode of learning where the study takes place wholly at home but the materials are still “physical,” like books, cassettes, CD-ROMs, and videos. Open learning takes place off site the majority of the time, but requires some infrequent attendance at a center. It includes mediums that are both physical and electronic. Online learning study takes place over the Internet, either live or via email lessons sent to the student’s inbox.
Current research would have us believe that the need for online learning is already being met, that K – 12 online learning is the direction education is already headed. Research states that seven hundred thousand students across the U. S. in grades K – 12 were enrolled in online learning in 2006, and 2007-2008 enrollment estimates were at 1,030,000 (Picciano & Seaman, 2009) and that K – 12 Internet-based education is growing by 30 to 47 percent each year (Newman, Stein, & Trask, 2003; Picciano & Seaman, 2007). “Forty four states have significant supplemental online learning programs, or significant full-time programs” (Watson, et al., 2008, p. 8). Other states are in the planning stages for online learning programs. Seventy one percent of school districts that currently offer distance education programs are planning to grow their programs in the next year (NCES, 2008).
While these statistics may be accurate, what is lacking is a clear definition of what online learning looks like in practice. Defining online courses, as those that rely on eighty percent of instruction online is merely the first step in defining online education. We propose a definition that clarifies some of the misconceptions teachers, administrators, and students may have about online education. These include concerns that online instruction leaves the teacher out of the educational process, that average or below-average performing students in traditional classrooms fare even more poorly in online courses, and that online courses are inferior to traditional classroom settings (Picciano & Seaman, 2009).
The model online instructional program provides the following:
- The program meets National Goals for Learning in the areas of Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Science and is designed for students from kindergarten through grade twelve.
- Each lesson module has several parts including an introduction, vocabulary, a lesson problem, statement of curricular standards, resources, study guide, activities, extended learning, and quizzes and exams.
- An adequate number of lesson modules are provided to fulfill the instructional requirement for students. These modules include a wide range of topics, informational web sites and interesting activities that help to create a unique learning experience.
- The program provides immediate feedback to students and parents. Multiple choice questions follow each study guide to check for comprehension and understanding of concepts learned.
- The program includes student and teacher/parent resources, discussion area, homework help, and unique email features.
- Lesson modules are written by educators in multiple subject areas. Students can work at their own ability level and at their own pace. The lesson modules emphasize achievement in basic skills for learning.
- The most important key to online learning is student success and students are more likely to succeed if the information is interesting and relevant for them.
- The original content of the lesson modules apply to real life situations that students can relate to, such as, creating a budget or reviewing a movie.
- The program is fully accessible through the Internet. There should be no plug-ins, or additional software with the program.
- The depth of content, use of graphics, activities and inclusion of web sites make the typical online instructional program unique when compared to other educational programs and sites on the Internet.