Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Do Online Courses Portend for Teachers and Teaching?

U.S. enrollment in online virtual classes is increasing with remarkable rapidity. Right now the level of enrollment is 22 times that of 2000 and shows every sign of continuing rapid growth. And this year, for the first time ever, on line enrollment reached the one million mark.

As this transformation progresses how will it impact teachers? It might mean job loss. And it at least means dramatic job change. Today only one percent of high school courses are taught online. But the Innosite Institute, a nonprofit thinktank, projects that 50% of all high school courses might be taught online by 2019. Perhaps that figure is inflated. So let's suppose that it will only half that That still means that in just eleven years one out of four high school course will be taught on line.

Why such rapid growth? Online instruction offers many advantages. Text books can be replaced by less expensive instructional packages with features and a level of student interest that individual teachers can never hope to match. Ability grouping, not to mention mass instruction, could become a thing of the past because online instruction permits every individual student to work at their own level in the same classroom. 

Tracking student progress becomes remarkably more detailed and individualized as well as much more efficient. Plus online instruction often works for kids who are turned off by traditional schooling. But effective implementation of this instruction implies vast change for teachers. Indeed, the role of the classroom teacher may well be transformed.

Online instruction may also cause unemployment for an appreciable number of teachers. In the first place, kids can learn on their own with minimal supervision. That appeals to school boards if it means lower instructional costs. Plus much of the growth in this type of instructionoccurs in newly minted virtual charter schools. And Morgan Stanley's experts say that these type "school"s will capture an increasing share of the U.S. education market as states encourage, rather than just permit, this type of instruction.

No one can predict the future with complete accuracy. But one thing seems certain. Online education promises major changes for schools, teaching and teachers.

For more on educational matters, including straightforward considerations of often avoided topics, visit newfoundations.com.

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