Online Learning - Disrupting Education!

According to Christensen, Horn and Johnson authors of Disrupting Class:How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, online learning is one of the disruptive innovations that is beginning to create innovative change in education. Already in higher education, online learning is making serious in-roads to disrupt traditional learning models. In the past online learning was often referred to as distance education and was merely printed texts sent out to students. Students completed these correspondence courses on their own with little interaction with teachers, classmates or multi-media. Today online learning is increasingly interactive with the aid of learning management systems, Web 2.0 tools, social networking and web conferencing. Students are able to access content synchronously or asynchronously, collaborate with other students locally or globally. They may take online courses along side their face-to-face classes. Online courses provide the personalization that many students seek saving them travel time and perhaps allowing them to look after family obligations or work full time.

Online courses may reduce costs for both students and institutions. In some online classes, teachers use open access resources available online. With students more in charge of constructing their own learning, they are more willing to search for up-to-date resources online and to repost education resources that they themselves create. Online courses also mean more competition between schools locally and worldwide. With more competition, schools will need to fine tune their offerings to remain competitive. Online courses that use augmented and virtual reality allow students to take part in more authentic learning. For example Brigham Young's ChemLab allows students to complete chemical experiments. Mistakes can be made with no consequence. Students can repeat experiments again and again on their own terms, and since all the experiments are virtual, there is no cost to a school for expensive chemicals.

But online learning is not just for higher education. Watch the Edutopia video to learn more:

spacerwiki280.gifAccording to Edutopia, 45 out of 50 states have online learning programs. At risk students are taking online classes to catch up and stay in school and AP students who are unable to take classes in their local school are able to seek online alternatives.

The video notes these advantages:
  • Personalized- On-Demand Learning- Online learning creates strong bonds between teacher and learner because online student can directly contact the teacher at any time. There can be more communication
  • Leveling of the Playing Field- All students can have access, students from small towns have same access as those from large city
  • Money- Cash strapped schools that cut classes, can offer online alternatives
  • Online learning fosters the needed 21st Century Skills- self-direction, fluency with technology and communication

  • How to have students work collaboratively at a distance

Empirical Evidence

A US Department of Education 2009 report that looked at 44 studies of post secondary and 7 studies of K-12 students shows that there is evidence that students benefit from online learning. The report showed that students who took some or all of their classes online performed better than those only taking traditional classes. The report also showed that combining face to face with online produced superior results than online alone. (Means, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practice in Online Learning as reported in How Online Learning is Revolutionizing K-12 Education and Benefiting Students, Backgrounder)

Why is Online Learning Important in Higher Education?

COFA online and The Australian Learning and Teaching Council produced the video below and a report called Why is Online Teaching Important. In the report the authors say, "While online education generally started with the use of technology as a support tool to conventional teaching methods – such as whiteboards, overhead projectors and word processors – it has since developed into a process or pedagogy. The issue is no longer one of how to use technology to teach, but one where teachers acknowledge the way the world is already developing, and understand the significance of online literacy and the role that collaboration and online engagement plays in student learning and their future workplace environment."

spacerwiki280.gifAccording to the report, the key benefits:

  • Increased flexibility of time
  • Increased flexibility of location
  • Context: Online education gives learning a new relevance to contemporary society and professional and industry practice
  • Information sharing: sharing information more easily and readily.- creating online communities of practice based on interest rather than geographic location
  • Online resources: access to a greater depth and breadth of resources and information
  • Diverse and enriching experience : enhances student learning experience -opportunities for cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural and/or cross-campus collaborations.local, national or international level,
  • Access, equity & disability: equal opportunity amongst students
  • Digital information literacy: develops digital literacy skills that are increasingly required in society and workplace
  • Administration: can streamline some administrative aspects of teaching.

And these limitations/restrictions/considerations:
  • Access to technology and internet can be problematic
  • Ability to use technology: Some software requires training.
  • Isolation: for student or teachers
  • Information overload: Too much information, ‘how-to’ guides, help and resources provided online can become overwhelming and confusing

As mentioned in the Edutopis video, there are many online or virtual high schools in the United States. To read about one see our page Open High School

For a state by state report see the 2009 Keeping Pace report on online learning or download it here

For information about National standards for quality online teaching. (2008). see

Next up, see Multi-Purpose Community Learning Spaces