Nearly half of the high school and college students surveyed by CDW•G a year ago as part of its Learn Now, Lecture Later report indicated that they wanted their instructors to incorporate more digital content into their lessons. By March 2013, the Consortium for School Networking was sharing at its annual conference the digital conversion best practices of educators and IT professionals from 25 districts in 16 states who had participated in its first annual Teaming for Transformation blended learning initiative.
What exactly does it mean to go through a digital conversion? A new report released at the ISTE 2013 conference asks that very question.
Produced by Project Tomorrow, in collaboration with Blackboard, 2013 Trends in Online Learning: Virtual, Blended and Flipped Classrooms explains the various approaches districts are taking to their own digital conversion efforts and details how online learning fits into the mix.
For some in K–12, the report explains, “a digital conversion may involve the replacement of print textbooks with online versions.” Others believe it involves the implementation of a blended learning model, one in which “selected students direct their own learning … using an online curriculum.” And then there are those who “envision a digital conversion as a school or districtwide transformation of the teaching and learning process … through the effective and strategic mix of digital tools and resources such as fully online courses, high quality videos, social media and mobile devices.”
No matter which approach a school takes, the report adds, “teachers are on the front lines of all of these digital conversions.”
Top Online Learning Trends
Based on data from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2012 survey of more than 364,000 K–12 students, 39,700 parents, 56,000 teachers and librarians and 6,000 district and school administrators and technology leaders, this latest report examines trends “using an inside-out perspective on the classroom” and the “variety of online learning strategies” schools are leveraging to engage students. Key findings reflect the insights and experiences of four key stakeholder groups:
- administrators who have implemented online courses within their schools and districts;
- online learning teachers in virtual, blended or flipped classrooms;
- parents with personal online learning experiences; and
- students who continue to be enamored with the potential of online learning to transform their educational experience.
Key Finding #1:
Administrators are widening their scope regarding the value of online classes to include learning opportunities for administrators, teachers and other support staff, in addition to students.
As of fall 2012, 43 percent of district administrators were offering a variety of online courses to meet the needs of a diverse set of students, the report notes. Conversely, just 16 percent of administrators weren’t yet providing any online courses within their district.
From 2011 to 2012, the percentage of administrators who were taking or had taken online classes increased from 24 percent to 34 percent. The teacher audience, meanwhile, jumped from 29 percent in 2011 to 36 percent in 2012. Online class participation among support staff doubled over that same period, from 8 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2012.
Key Finding #2:
Teachers in virtual, blended and flipped learning settings are using more digital content with their students than other teachers.
“For many districts,” the report explains, “the move from a print textbook to a digital textbook is the first step in their digital conversion.” Teachers who have implemented a flipped classroom environment, for example, “are not only more likely to be using online videos (68 percent) than other teachers (47 percent), but also more likely to be tapping into online textbooks (38 percent).”
Key Finding #3:
Online learning teachers see significant value in the role of digital tools and resources to improve student success, as well as their own personal productivity.
Teachers of fully online classes, blended learning classes and flipped classes attribute a variety of student learning benefits to the use of digital tools and resources, including increased motivation to learn (56 percent, 59 percent and 60 percent, respectively) and creativity development (52 percent, 43 percent and 57 percent, respectively). The development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, the application of knowledge to practical problems and students taking ownership of their learning also were cited as benefits.
Teachers also believe the use of digital content in fully online, blended learning and flipped learning classes makes them better instructors. Such tools and resources, they say, improve their organizational skills (65 percent, 54 percent and 63 percent, respectively); help them create more interactive lessons (56 percent, 51 percent and 65 percent, respectively); and make them more productive (49 percent, 38 percent and 50 percent, respectively).
Key Finding #4:
Parents who have taken an online class for their own work or job training have high expectations for their child’s school to provide similar learning opportunities.
According to the report, parents “who would like to see greater district investments in online learning see strong value in online learning’s capacities to enable personalized, self-paced learning. They also see the benefits of expanding course offerings for their child as a preparation for college.”
Specifically, 81 percent of parents who want to see more online courses offered at school cite as a benefit the fact that such offerings allow students to work at their own pace. Other perceived benefits include the ability for students to review materials as many times as needed, from anywhere (78 percent); the ability to take a class not offered at school (76 percent); and the ability to earn college credit (72 percent).
Key Finding #5:
Students are increasingly seeing online learning as a gateway to a new education paradigm where they are in control of the learning process.
“With 41 percent of students in grades 6–12 and 26 percent of students in grades 3–5 already interested in taking an online class,” the report notes, “today’s students are in many ways functioning as a primary catalyst for digital conversions in our K–12 classrooms so as to satisfy their desires for more personalized, self-paced learning.”