E-Learning – Does it really work?

There are scant few places you can go anymore and not have access to the Internet. In fact, many schools, colleges and universities offer online classes and degrees to those who cannot or do not want to take traditional classes. Asynchronous, the student and instructor are able to work freely of the constraints of times and class meetings. Exceptions are made for virtual office hours and weekly meetings with online meeting software, but these meetings are announced well in advance and frequently held in the evenings.

Because the Internet has revolutionized teaching and learning, you would think that assessing its effectiveness would be difficult. That is not the case. Students who take online classes can still take traditional criterion-referenced assessments if these assessments are required for the course. These assessments can be given online, a testing center or a traditional school, and the student is responsible for transportation to and from the assessment center. Scores can then be tallied against traditional face to face classes and norms developed with standard deviation statistics.

Once the scores of the online courses are verified and tallied, the effectiveness of the online class may then be appropriately measured. For instance, the Georgia Virtual School program from the Georgia Department of Education requires students enrolled in certain classes to take exams designed specifically for those classes. Because the course is online and the assessment is state wide, the effectiveness of the online course is easily measured.

Cost is normally not a factor for many online programs and schools. Tuition is normal for colleges, universities and private online programs, but the Georgia Virtual School is free for a certain number of homeschooled students and all Georgia residents enrolled in a Georgia school. Other states have adopted similar guidelines for virtual education in their respective systems. Frequently, a portion of federal money, called FTE, is taken for each student currently enrolled in a public school to offset the cost of the instruction. This money is used for salaries, course development and professional education.

The numbers of students who have enrolled in virtual education has increased and continues to do so. The availability of the Internet via smart phones and free wireless almost everywhere means students and those interested in learning have almost instantaneous access to education anywhere in the world. In smaller, rural schools that perhaps lack variety in courses, the virtual world allows for any number of potential classes. World languages are particularly popular since many smaller schools cannot hire and retain world language teachers. A teacher who can teach online is a valuable resource to these schools. A school with a world language teacher, who retires, goes on maternity leave or because of a family emergency has to leave midyear, benefits from this flexibility and availability.

The future of virtual learning is certainly wide open and continues to grow year after year. What started many years ago with public bulletin boards and message boards has become a lucrative industry for many. All states now offer an online school for students who cannot or choose not to attend traditional schools and as the country moves to a unified set of standards, the Common Core Curriculum, it will be even easier in the future to assess the effectiveness of online learning at any level from a local school system to a national level.