Online learning: Will school change happen as a result?

by Steve Wyckoff on April 2, 2010

Online learning hasn’t led the school change in K-12 schools. But it seems to have had a tremendous impact everywhere else. I really thought with the financial crisis we would see a rapid escalation of online courses for high school kids. They just haven’t happened. At least not in my state.

When I analyze how I learn today  is much different than it was in the past. When there is something I need to know in order to do something, these are the steps I follow.

1. The first thing I do is google it. I look at the results “above the fold” to see if the brief descriptions that Google returns to me cover what I am looking for. I will typically click on two or three of these descriptions and look over their websites to see if I found what I need.

2. My second step is to go to Wikipedia, especially if I am just looking for information. Actually, sometimes this is my first step simply because I know what a vast amount of information is available. Interestingly, while the accuracy of Wikipedia used to be questioned I don’t hear that much anymore. In fact, Wikipedia has turned into perhaps my most trusted resource.

3. If I really want to see how to do something, then I go to YouTube. I’m always amazed that you can find a video that demonstrates how to do some of the most obscure activities.

The reason I talk about these three steps is what we do in schools looks nothing like this. I think the main reason is that we really don’t want kids to learn how to do things, we only want them to memorize things. When teachers are simply giving kids information and the task for the student is to remember it for the test, and then forget it, there is no need for the student to practice behaviors that help them become self-directed problem solvers.

So as we look at school change educators look at online learning as just another way to deliver information and they don’t see it as any better than just standing in front of the room and telling students. What they should be doing is helping the students become self-directed and able to use the resources that are available to solve meaningful problems.

According to, if teachers in their classroom were focused on helping students prepare for the 21st century rather than memorizing information for tests, especially standardized tests, they would see the need for students to be using online resources which in turn would increase the value of online courses. So right now online learning is the solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in the mind of our educators. –  Steve Wyckoff

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