K-12 Online Education: Issues and Future Research Directions

K-12 Online Education: Issues and Future Research Directions

Wayne Journell, Ben McFadyen, Marva S. Miller, Kathryn Kujawski Brown
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5162-3.ch026
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It is growing increasingly evident that online learning is the future of K-12 education, both in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. Improved technology, coupled with the perceived cost-effectiveness of online education, has resulted in growing numbers of states and K-12 school districts embracing “anytime, anywhere” education. Research on K-12 online education, however, has not kept up with its growth. This chapter explores three structural issues that are currently limiting online learning from being a viable alternative to K-12 face-to-face instruction in the United States: inadequate training of online K-12 teachers, issues related to accessibility for students with diverse learning needs, and the importance of structuring courses in a way that responds to the diverse backgrounds of K-12 students. Although this chapter is framed from an American perspective, largely because the vast majority of K-12 online learning occurs in the United States, future research on these issues is essential to K-12 online education in any context.
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Historical Context

K-12 online education is merely the latest incarnation of a push for distance education in the United States that has its roots in the mid-nineteenth century (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006; Moore, 2003). The advents of the personal computer in the mid-1970s, the World Wide Web in the 1990s, and high-speed networks in the 2000s stimulated a myriad of ways to provide online instruction to the masses. Since the mid-1990s, colleges and universities in the United States have been turning to online education with increased frequency (Allen & Seaman, 2011), and it did not take long for policymakers to envision similar success at the K-12 level.

Although the origins of K-12 online education actually occurred in Canada (Barbour & Reeves, 2009), two highly-successful programs in the United States started a few years later: The Virtual High School (VHS), which was established by the Concord Consortium, and the Florida Virtual School, which was created by the Florida state legislature. These “out of school” models offered the opportunity for students to work from a computer at home and interact with teachers remotely (Friend & Johnson, 2005; Pape, Adams, & Ribeiro, 2005; Zucker & Kozma, 2003). Both programs are still in existence today and have grown both in terms of scope and student enrollment (Florida Virtual School, 2012; VHS Collaborative, 2012).

Today, K-12 online education programs in the United States are offered in a variety of formats. Completely online educational institutions are often referred to as “virtual schools” or “cyber schools” and may be operated by states, school districts, or as charter or private schools. Increasingly, individual school districts are creating online courses and programs to supplement their existing face-to-face curricula. These courses are designed to provide flexibility for students who wish to take classes outside of the traditional school day or to offer curricula in a cost-effective manner (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009; Rice, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Universal Design for Learning: A form of instruction that is designed to work for all students in that it is flexible and can be customized to fit individual learning needs.

Asynchronous Communication: Communication that requires a delay between the sender and receiver, such as email or threaded discussion board posts.

Synchronous Communication: Communication that occurs in real time, such as via phone, chat rooms, or videocommunication devices.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: The ideal intersection of teachers’ knowledge of technology, content, and pedagogy.

Accommodations: Adaptations made to instruction based on students’ individual learning needs.

Culturally Responsive Instruction: Instruction that incorporates students’ personal histories, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences into the curriculum.

Second Language Learners: Students whose are not native speakers, yet are placed in classrooms where the native language is predominately spoken.

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