Online Education Has Its Place, But is Not as Successful as Live Instruction

Utah State Board of Education Member Kim Burningham

Kim Burningham, Utah State Board of Education, District 5

Fascinating education studies reveal some unique findings

Current news about education concerns from various sources is fascinating. In a series of four blog posts, I will share several interesting bits:

Highly applauded Finnish education system emphasizes public education equity rather than choice

Strong teachers produce remarkable and not always discussed advantages for students

• Online education has its place, but is not as successful as live instruction

• Florida program to retain students may result in increased dropout problems

For the majority of students, face to face instruction in a school is superior.

Online education has its place, but is not as successful as live instruction

The New York Times (January 6, 2012) reported a very interesting study published by the National Education Policy Center. The study compared the success rate of student in “virtual” schools (where instruction is entirely or mainly provided over the Internet) vs. what they called “brick and mortar” schools. The comparison utilized the federal standard set forth under the federal “No Child Left Behind” act. The study said that only 27 percent of virtual schools achieved “adequate yearly progress,” compared to private and public brick and mortar schools where the national average is in the 50 percent range.

This study emphasizes a philosophy that many share. Online education may be an effective way to supplement regular education and a tool especially adapted for students with unique needs, abilities, and motivation, but for the majority of students, face to face instruction in a school is superior.

Kim Burningham represents District 5 on the Utah State Board of Education. Prior to joining the State Board of Education, he served for 15 years in the Utah Legislature and was an educator for many years, twice named Outstanding Teaching of the Year.

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3 comments to Online Education Has Its Place, But is Not as Successful as Live Instruction

  • The study you cite above ONLY includes information about online schools run by Charter Management Organizations, and does NOT include data for all online schools. Your headline and the thesis of your article are overstated and, in fact, incorrect.

    The Department of Education recently conducted a massive, systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 and identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. The Department of Education’s meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. You can read the full report at – http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf.

    While I would not be surprised if online schools in Utah run by big corporate Charter Management Organizations performed similar to those in your study, there are online schools in Utah which are not run by big CMOs. The Open High School of Utah, an online charter school, was just awarded the Best of State Award in the Charter School category, and has NCLB test results higher than the state average by 10 points or more.

    The root of the academic performance problem identified in the study you cite is NOT the “online” nature of the schools. It is the fact that these schools are run by big, out-of-state corporations who pursue profits first and learning second. Don’t lump all online schools in this pile.

    • Elizabeth Ziegler

      Thanks for your comment, David. You make some interesting points and I’ll be sure to forward your comments on to the blog post’s author, Kim Burningham. -Elizabeth Ziegler, USOE Social Media Specialist

  • Kim Burningham

    David. Thanks for the clarification and discussion. I particularly appreciated your differentiation between “big corporate Charter Management Organizations” and those not run by big CMOs. Good point.

    I do value online educaiton, and will seek to differentiate more clearly in the future. To lump all online schools in one “pile” is indeed overspilification, and for that I apologize.

    I am ultimately convinced that good face to face instruction supplemented by strong online education must be balanced. I am also convinced that different students need different combinations of those factors.

    Again thanks for writing.

    Kim Burningham