Alternative options to the traditional school setting abound and threaten the survival of some school districts. These alternatives include, but are not limited to, home schooling, charter schools, alternative learning centers, post-secondary options, and online learning. Schools are already addressing this concern by offering their own ALC programs, advanced placement or accelerated courses, independent study courses, or ITV (interactive television) courses. Some schools have created their own online courses to supplement traditional classrooms. Many other school districts are considering offering online courses. Before school districts commit to such a course of action, there are questions to be answered. Is online learning an appropriate delivery method for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade? Should traditional schools offer some of their courses online? If they do enter the online arena, how do they make the program a success?
History And The Present State Of Online Learning
Distance learning has a long history in education. Long before the Internet existed, schools were offering distance courses. Pitman shorthand was taught via correspondence course in England as early as 1840 (Maeroff, 2003). In the 20th century, radio and television were incorporated into one-way instructional opportunities. While serving a purpose, many students found these options to be less than ideal. By 1972, technological innovations had enabled distance courses to incorporate two-way communication; and during the last half of the 20th century, interactive television courses, videoconferencing courses, and online courses emerged. By 2002, 81% of all US universities offered online learning courses (Allen & Seaman, 2003, p. 2). There were an estimated 1.6 million online students in 2002, with one-third of these students completing their entire program online (Allen & Seaman, 2003).
In the 1990s, the online learning trend spread to elementary and high schools. Today many K-12 online opportunities exist, with everything from single courses to full programs available. According to Mills (2002), 43 states and the District of Columbia offered some type of online school or coursework for K-12 students in 2002 (Data Sources section, paragraph 1). The University of Missouri Center for Distance and Independent Study Outreach Program for high school students started offering courses in 1991. That year the program attracted only 14 enrollments. By 2002, 2,399 enrollments were documented (Maeroff, 2003). It is estimated that by 2006, more than 50% of all students will have taken an online course by the time they graduate (National Education Association, 2002, paragraph 2).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Online Learning: Educational program where content is primarily delivered through the Internet. Communication is typically asynchronous, occurring through e-mail, listservs, discussion postings, and chat rooms.
Alternative Learning Center (ALC): A program that provides educational options to students who are at risk of experiencing failure or already have been unsuccessful in a traditional school setting.
Distance Education: The process of providing instruction when students and instructors are separated by physical distance (Gilbert, 2001, p. 235).
Post-Secondary Option: Educational alternative allowing students (usually juniors and seniors) to take courses at post-secondary institutions, earning both high school and college credit.
Interactive Television (ITV): A course broadcast between two or more remote locations that allows instructor and students to interact in real time.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to explain how to make Web page content accessible to people with disabilities and to define target levels of accessibility (W3C, 2004, p. 1).
Charter School: Independent public school created by teachers, parents, and others with approval of the governing state to create an alternative choice for students seeking a program that matches their educational interests and/or needs.
Asynchronous Communication: Communication in which interaction between parties takes place at different times (Gilbert, 2001, p. 232).