"Does online Learning Work?"
It's my observation now, after spending nearly 20 years supporting education technology, that there continue to be major hurdles in getting teachers to adopt technology into their curriculum, no matter how one attempts to integrate it. I do believe that a fair percentage of them have a genuine interest in trying, but the reality is still today, that only a very small percentage end up successfully integrating technology directly.
We deal with schools and teachers everyday that are not yet even on the net, don't have a website, are just starting to use email, and don't have a clue what to do with Facebook or Twitter or other social networking tools. For these schools and teachers, online learning is very far off in the distance.
Online course creation is finally starting to take shape, but this creation by and large is not being done by teachers, at least, not teachers that are actively teaching. Adding to the barrier is the learning curve of available online course creation software. Programs like Moodle are engineering behemouths that require IT support to install, run and upgrade. Developing courses in some of these programs requires a course of it's own first, and the learning curve can be quite technical and steep. I can say this definitively, 95% of the teachers I know would never even attempt it. So where does that leave us?
Until we can deliver simple tools that educators can use easily and quickly to develop online learning materials, tools that empower and enhance their ability to teach, rather than encumber the experience, online learning will simply not gain the traction it needs.
Of course, that's only one small piece of the puzzle. Yes, first we have to get teachers comfortable using the technology, and that technology, given the current economy, needs to be extremely affordable, seamlessly integrated and available everywhere, to everyone. That last point, of course, brings up the second "rub" in the online learning plan, access by end users. There are still millions of family homes in the US that are not equipped with the technology necessary to actually access and use online learning. Unfortunately, as with many things, often those that need or may benefit from it the most have the least access to it. An unfair advantage to those that do? How could it not be?
It's a complicated issue that we are all watching quite carefully. With the current lack of revenue for education impacting every state and institution from every angle, we are scrambling to find ways to cut costs while improving testing and accountability. A difficult place to be in a very difficult time.
Is online learning the answer? Maybe, someday, maybe even somewhere today, but it has a long way to go before it delivers on the promise universally.