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Support for Online Learning Grows Among District Administrators

A majority of district administrators now endorse online learning as a potential solution to the challenges besetting school districts. That's the key finding of a new survey report released at ISTE by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of students' voices in education.

The report, Learning in the 21st Century: A Five Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning, compares education technology issues first reported in 2007 with online learning trends in 2012. Based on surveys of 416,758 K-12 students, parents, teachers, and administrators as part of the 2011 Speak Up project, the report analyzes the level of interest in online and digital learning.

Fully 52 percent of the district administrators who were surveyed now support the idea of online classes, up from just one-third who felt the same in 2007. The rise in acceptance now matches the overall level of support for online learning shown by parents.

The report also found broad agreement among administrators--more than two-thirds of them--on the need for students to be required to experience online learning as part of their education. Interestingly, though, fewer than half of students in grades 6-12 (45 percent) or their parents (46 percent) support the idea of making an online class a requirement of graduation. Currently, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Michigan and Virginia have instituted an online-learning requirement. 

While most students may not want to see online learning as a requirement, they are interested in the medium. The report found that, for the first time since 2007, the percentage of students who have not taken an online class but are interested exceeds those with no interest in taking one.  

“We found that a greater acceptance of digital learning is the driving force behind personalized education,” said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow. “Parents are encouraging teachers to customize learning environments, and students are thriving through these tailored types of learning. Since 2007, we have easily seen an increase in sophistication around online learning, as well as a new blending of emerging technologies, such as mobile and digital textbooks.”

“The emergence of online learning tools allows schools to meet student needs in a new way,” added Brett Frazier, senior vice president at Blackboard. “As student, parent and educator interest in online learning has increased over the past five years, so has the awareness of its educational and administrative benefits. With significant buy-in from all stakeholder groups, we are at a critical moment in terms of how we view the value of education technology from the classroom to district level.”

Despite this growing momentum, however, principals are showing some reluctance to introduce student-owned mobile devices into classrooms. According to the report, two-thirds of principals oppose the BYOD movement, and only 21 percent say they would be likely to allow students to bring their own mobile devices to school.

About the Author

Andrew Barbour is the former executive editor of Campus Technology.