This article is cross-posted from my school blog, Spring 2012.
I believe that my discussion about e-Learning will sound eerily like my post about Online Collaboration, though possibly less alarmist. There’s one big reason for this—there’s a lot of online collaboration involved in e-Learning. However, one big difference is that there’s not always a lot of e-Learning involved in online collaboration (which is one of my big beefs about it).
e-Learning is first and foremost a wonderful advance in education for certain groups of students. Call them “non-traditional,” if you will, but they are students who for whatever reason don’t fit in well with the standard 8-3 bell-driven Industrial Revolution model of education. Bonk (2009) outlined two such examples: one, a ballerina who spends most of her day practicing her art, and the other a young student who embarked on an ocean voyage with her family. In both cases, these students were not “trouble” kids, not asocial kids, did not have learning disabilities, or any other situation that would typically make them candidates for “alternative” education. No, these girls simply needed their education to fit into their lives, not the other way around.
This new delivery system for education is not just about convenience, however. e-Learning is also only right for some types of learners. Not all students are organized and self-motivated to complete regular coursework outside of a traditional classroom setting. Others simply thrive in the presence of other students. However, it seems illogical that though we spend hours and hours in professional development sessions learning about adaptation to learning styles, e-Learning is one avenue that often gets overlooked as a solution, either because of budgetary or technological constraints or because of pedagogical ignorance.
There are some places that are starting to get it right, however. The State of Massachusetts, according to the Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning (2012) report, “has the most course enrollments of any state in the [Virtual High School Global] consortium, with 5,547,” (p. 107). For the 2009-2010 school year, at least one student from 43% of the school districts in Massachusetts was enrolled in an online course. This is not just a brick-and-mortar course that supplements with Blackboard, this is a fully-developed online course where coursework and assessments are performed online. Massachusetts also has “one full-time online school operating statewide,” (p. 107).
My main concern with e-Learning is the same as it is with homeschooling: oversight. I realize that one of the main reasons for homeschooling is to get away from the bureaucracy, but I’m first and foremost concerned that students receive a comprehensive education. If e-Learning, or homeschooling, or a traditional 8-3 bell-driven school building can provide that, then ultimately it simply opens up to a matter of choice.