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5 K-12 E-Learning Trends

Over the last few years technology implementations in the K-12 sector reached record levels with tablets, laptops, social networking, and other e-learning technologies making their debut in classrooms around the nation. The frenzy is expected to continue in 2012 as districts implement e-learning tools that impact all aspects of the educational and administrative experience. To find out what's on tap for the next several months THE Journal conferred with several academics and instructional technologists who revealed the following top five trends to watch in the year ahead.

Cutting the Wires: More Mobile Learning
Some school districts believe that mobile phones and tablets in class are nothing more than distractions, but many others are using such tools to better engage their K-12 students. Julie Evans, CEO at national educational nonprofit Project Tomorrow in Irvine, CA, said she expects more districts to use the latter approach in 2012. Evans said the "leveraging of small, portable devices to facilitate anytime, anywhere, un-tethered learning," is particularly hot right now. Fueling that fire is a desire to replicate the benefits of successful 1:1 laptop and netbook programs without the high price tag associated with such initiatives. According to Project Tomorrow's research smart phone access for middle and high school students jumped 42 percent from 2009 to 2010. The percentage is expected to increase for 2011 although exactly which device will rise to the top as the tool of choice is yet to be determined. "We're seeing a lot of energy around mobile learning right now," said Evans, "but still some concern over the specific definition of mobile learning and what the device of choice will be for the K-12 sector."

Learning from a Distance: An Upswing in Online Instruction
The days when online classes were geared either to remedial learners or students who wanted to work ahead of their regular classes could be numbered. Evans said interest in online learning has grown significantly in popularity over the past few years among students, educators, parents, and policymakers. In fact, Project Tomorrow reports that 39 percent more administrators and five times as many parents would incorporate online classes into their vision for the ultimate school in 2010 than in 2008. "This strong interest in leveraging the power of online learning through self-study online courses, teacher-led online classes, as well as blended/hybrid learning environments," Evans said, "has translated into more online learning experiences than ever before for middle and high school students." Expect to see more of those educational experiences routed to the Web in 2012 as administrators (who are using online learning for their own professional development), teachers, and students warm up even more to the idea of the out-of-classroom learning experiences. With no budget relief on the horizon the trend could enable districts to expand their offerings without having to construct new buildings and hire more staff. "Administrators need ways to increase student productivity without the increased costs associated with education," said Evans, who sees a blended approach that combines both classroom and online learning as a particularly attractive option for districts in 2012.

Social Awareness: More Facebooking and Twittering
Like it or not social networking looks like it's here to stay. Rather than fight the movement Stephen Canipe said the K-12 sector should embrace social networking and use it to its advantage. "In 2012 we're definitely going to see more of it," said Canipe, a program director at Minneapolis-based Walden University's Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. "Both in terms of traditional sites [like Facebook and Twitter] and social bookmarking sites [such as Delicious and Diigo]." Using Diigo, for example, teachers can set up electronic reading lists and post assignments that students can access on their own time and without having to be reminded via email about the postings. And unlike public social networking sites, these bookmarking options can be made private. That's a particularly important point for the K-12 sector, and Canipe said he expects social networking use to continue to grow across the sector. "These tools enable collaborative learning," said Canipe, "without putting more work on the teacher's plate."

Getting a Grip: More Learning Management Systems
The growth of online learning has resulted in more data, information, coursework, and communication. All of these elements must be effectively managed without over-taxing districts that are already testing the limits of their budgets and human resources. With states like Idaho and Arkansas passing legislation that requires districts to integrate online learning options into their curricula the push to create effective management systems increases even further. According to Canipe, one viable solution lies in the various learning management systems (LMS). These software applications--which include Moodle's open platform and Blackboard's free CourseSites offering--are used to administer, track, document, and report classroom and online material and events. "I expect we'll see even more LMSs hit the market in 2012," said Canipe, who points to Google's CloudCourse course scheduling system as a possibility for the K-12 sector. "With the whole push toward online learning in full swing," said Canipe, "the need to ensure that the online delivery itself is a planned, orderly event will also grow."

Leading the Charge: Teacher-Led 1:1 Implementations
The growth in 1:1 implementations at the K-12 level isn't news, but when you combine affordability with a wider array of computing options such as tablets, laptops, netbooks, and other portable devices, you wind up with the right combination for schools that want to put a computer onto every student's desk. In 2012 this stepped up interest in 1:1 could be driven by individual teachers who have witnessed the success experienced by the early adopters. "We're seeing teachers who shied away from technology just 10 years ago take more proactive stances about getting IT into their classrooms," said Tricia Fontenot, technology facilitator at Grand Prairie Elementary and district technology trainer in Washington, LA. "They see their co-workers using technology and recognize how well it works with students, so they're gravitating towards it. This awareness will likely play an important role in 1:1 implementations this year."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].