Online Learning Begins to Explode into the Mainstream in Blended Schools

This week, Innosight Institute, where I am the executive director of the education practice, released a landmark report, titled The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of Emerging Models, which profiles 40 different operators leading the rise of K-12 blended learning.

Across America a skyrocketing number of K-12 students are getting their education in blended-learning environments. Over 4 million K-12 students took at least one online course in 2010, according to Ambient Insight, and this space is growing now by a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent—much faster than the growth of charter schooling or other K-12 education reforms, for example. And the majority of this growth is occurring in different types of “blended learning.”

The report, by our senior research fellow, Heather Staker, provides clarity as to what this term means, defining it based on the research as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.”

We’re not talking about the end of school then by any means, nor are we talking about eliminating teachers. Parents need schools, students like to be with their friends, and teachers are crucial for learning—and the evidence is that teachers love working in online learning environments, whether they are blended or at a distance.

What we are talking about is the end of the classroom structure that was built to standardize the way students are taught and tested. The opportunity this is creating to remake and improve our education system is unprecedented. For the first time we have a way to create personalized pathways for each student that are affordable.

And as this report reveals, a lot of education leaders are working to do just that, from school districts like New York City and Albuquerque to charter organizations like KIPP and Rocketship Education, which is getting stellar results in its schools in San Jose, Calif.

One of the most interesting schools profiled is Carpe Diem, which both BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report have recognized as one of the top high schools in America—and for good reason, as this video about the school attests.

And we’re only scratching the surface of the personalization that is possible. There is a flowering of different models right now, as this report identifies (and should allow people to now better communicate about what they are and are not doing), as operators are trying a variety of different arrangements.

The report also identifies the technologies behind the different school models and who is using what. If anyone had any doubt that there are a lot of choices and options out there for content, for example, then look at the chart on page 161. There is unbelievable fragmentation of this market right now, with K12, Inc. and Apex Learning having the most usage among those schools profiled. Pearson dominates the Student Information System landscape with its PowerSchool product, and Blackboard dominates both the Learning Management System and Gradebook categories, although Pearson is just behind in the latter.

Lastly, the report also has some really important policy recommendations that echo the work of Digital Learning Now, but also reflect the direct voice of the leaders of these programs, as they voice what policies and regulations are holding them back from taking this revolution in learning to the next level to even better serve America’s students.

– Michael B. Horn

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