Monday, November 14, 2011

Mandating online learning

I saw this article, "Idaho to Mandate Online Classes" the other day and am just now getting around to responding to it.  Idaho, apparently, has approved the graduation requirement that all students must take two online classes to graduate from high school.

I have to ask - why online?  They say that it is so students can develop skills in that area, which I assume means online learning.  But, I don't know that it requires students taking online classes.  Don't get me wrong - I am a huge advocate of online learning, but not necessarily online classes for all. 

Online learning is NOT the same as taking an online class. Online learning can mean many things - looking at videos, finding resources, participating in online communities, listening to podcasts....I could go on and on. I definitely think all students should be exposed to aspects of online learning when appropriate and when it enhances or extends the learning of a particular content or topic.  An online class on the other hand, is one where there is most likely a grade expectation, reading materials, projects and course requirements, required discussion forums and group work, among other things.  And this is not necessarily a good fit for all students, just as not all students learn well from lecture-only instruction or inquiry-only instruction. 

Online classes, while they are convenient, less costly, flexible, and accessible from anywhere and anytime, are not a good fit for everyone. Some students will actually not do well at all in an online class and it seems ashame to set them up for failure by requiring online classes for graduation. I would hope that Idaho, and other states considering mandating online classes, consider making it an option versus a mandate. Or, if it is a mandate, make sure that the classes are well chosen, that the teachers are WELL TRAINED in online instruction, and most importantly that students have some training with online learning and expectations before the classes begin (with an opt-out possibility).  If not, these types of mandates are doomed for failure.


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