Is Online Learning Coming Soon To High Schools?

ipad teacherNormally, finding out your kids are watching their teacher on YouTube would cause panic, but not if the video they are watching is a math lecture about determining probability. Perhaps your child is having difficulty with learning how to use direct object pronouns in Spanish, and is going online to review lectures.

This digital approach called flipping the classroom” is already being used by K-12 teachers across the nation.

The use of flipped classes (those with an at-home, online component for instruction, and in-class work with teacher support), and other blended classrooms has been on the rise since its debut in 2004, and teachers support the change. In fact, 60 percent of teachers who use flipped learning technology believe the online aspect motivates students. Students feel that classes with an online learning component give them a more personal learning environment, one they have more control over.

Why Online Learning?

Almost all state standards, including the new Common Core State Standards, call for more technology and digital tools to be used in classrooms in order to give students more access to the types of tools they will be expected to use later in life. One such standard states students must be able to use diverse forms of media, such as video, in order to problem solve. Each core subject has many of such standards. Kids are already living in an online world, so why should their education be any different? Statistics even show that 89 percent of parents would like to see their children in classes where mobile devices are used for class work.

In addition to online components to classes, 43 percent of public school districts in the United States offer a variety of digital course options along with entire high school diploma programs online. These classes can be taken off-campus wherever students have access to the Internet.

Because online diploma programs are fairly new, it is unclear how their offerings will affect the size of traditional classrooms, although the research is clear that reduced class size is beneficial to students. A 32 percent reduction in class has shown an increase in student achievement by an amount that is equivalent to three extra months of school, Brookings noted. Similarly, students who take online courses are, in essence, reducing their own class size to one.

Who Takes Classes Online?

Online programs are designed for students who do not quite fit the mold of a traditional classroom. While many students use online classes to supplement their traditional plan for graduation – making up failed credits, taking missed requirements — others use the programs for a full track to a diploma.

The programs are not a “quick fix” and require a lot of personal motivation. Many year-long credited courses take up to 200 hours to complete. They also tend to be rigorous, packing a year of a traditional class into one semester. For many students who are struggling in traditional classrooms or have attendance issues, the freedom and flexibility of working online is what they need to succeed.

Other online programs are designed for advanced students who want to fast-track the high school experience. These programs are best suited for students who are very invested in their education, and who may find traditional classes too slow. They are also geared toward students who enjoy an intellectual challenge.

Where Are the Teachers?

Online courses and flipped classrooms do not mean your child will not have a traditional teacher the mentor and hold students accountable. Online courses almost always have a real teacher point of contact. Many administrators value and spend district dollars on technology training for teachers and students. Teachers are becoming experts in helping kids with online tools and technology. Many schools that offer online (or electronic) high schools have a common meeting area with computers for students to work. This space also includes instructors who are there to answer questions, help with technology glitches, and mentor students in the program.

About 3.4 million students were expected to graduate from high schools in the United States in 2013, notes the National Center for Education Studies. While drop-out rates have been declining, schools are still losing millions of students each year. Offering alternatives to the traditional classroom setting will capture more of the kids who might otherwise need extended years to finish high school, or who are in danger of dropping out altogether.

Online learning is not isolated programs that students start and finish without any contact from teachers or other students. These courses are designed so that students are still getting the same content as their in-class peers, but in a different format.

Creative Commons image by flickingerbrad


  1. Joe Beckmann

    August 23, 2013 at 9:14 am

    How strange to write about online learning without mentioning “blended learning.” In truth, it is NEVER a choice of flip or face to face, but ALWAYS a reality of some kind of blend of online resources and face to face individual and small group peer or directed instruction. And it is NEVER a case of “students who don’t quite fit,” since very, very few ever fit a single model for every minute of school.

    Finally, the real difference online resources make is how they – and students with enough access – challenge the “seat time” model of giving credit for “time-served.” In fact, it is NEVER a matter of how much time it “should” take, but, rather it is ALWAYS a matter of what happens during the time you have or make available.

  2. [email protected]

    August 23, 2013 at 10:59 am


    I wish you hadn’t been quite so global in your statement: “Online programs are designed for students who do not quite fit the mold of a traditional classroom…” A modifier of “Some” related to online programs would have made your comment more accurate. When we started the first virtual high school it was to provide courses students couldn’t get in their brick and mortar school, and a number of other programs have been created just to do that since.

    Yes, there are are a number of credit recovery courses offered now. The students taking those aren’t all taking them because they don’t quite fit….

    But, gee, taking a look at the drop out rates in this country, maybe there are a lot of students that don’t quite fit the current model of on-ground instruction, and maybe there’s a lesson in that.