Online Learning: Point of No Return, Part One

Two of the questions I’m often asked are how many students are participating in some form of online learning in California and what models are they using. Online student population data hasn’t been officially tracked and many estimates of yearly populations in California are anecdotal at best.  Last year, I built a spreadsheet of all districts with online or virtual in their titles as well as districts known to practice eLearning. Last year, Joyce Hinkson, from the California Department of Education, built an interactive California Director of Online Schools and Programs listing similar schools and adding many that I’d missed. Still, most of these districts utilized full-time online learning. What was missing from both our estimates were those districts dipping their toes into the water.

So, the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) constructed a short eLearning Census to ask several questions of all California school districts and direct-funded charters. We first snail-mailed the census to all district superintendents and have followed-up with twice monthly reminders to those districts that have yet to respond. In addition, CTAP regions have participated by sending reminders out to their client districts. Census information, including FAQs, a downloadable PDF of the question set, and a link to the online census may be found at:

Census questions include:

  • Do students at your charter or district participate in online learning?
  • Do you operate an on-campus virtual school?
  • Which blended learning models are being utilized in your charter or district?
  • How many schools in your district/charter are implementing virtual or blended learning?
  • Students in which grade levels participate in virtual or blended learning?
  • How many students are participating in full-time virtual learning during the 2011-2012 school year?
  • How many students are participating in blended learning during the 2011-2012 school year?
  • How many students took virtual or blended courses during the summer of 2011?
  • If you are acquiring commercial content/courses for your school(s), from which companies are you purchasing content?
  • If utilizing online or blended learning with supplemental software/Internet resources or with open source materials, which resources are involved?

As of today, Tuesday, March 20th, 256 districts and direct-funded charters have responded and the preliminary results startle me.  Have we reached the tipping point for the online learning revolution? Have we passed a point of no return? All of this depends on Clayton Christensen’s and Michael Horn’s definition of the tipping point within their Disrupting Class book. Regardless whether there are sufficient numbers of students taking online courses to meet the tipping point definition, significant numbers of districts and direct-funded charters have begun to offer online and blended learning courses to their students. I believe we have, at least, reached the point of no return.

So, as I share preliminary data results, know that I don’t believe we have a critical mass of data to confirm the percentages below. Still, the percentages have largely been consistent from the first responses.

Do students at your charter or district participate in online learning?

To date, 43% of all responding California school districts and direct-funded charters indicate they are providing some form of online learning for their students. My initial assumption was that we’d see far more online learning at charter schools. This has not been the case, though. Equal percentages of districts and charters are providing eLearning services. However, I suspect that 43% may be a bit high, as the rate was steady at 38% from the initial results until we hit 200 responses. These are initial results representing just 17.6% of all districts, so our mileage may vary over the next month.

 Districts and Direct-Funded Charters That Provide Online Learning

In House Virtual Schools

Next, we asked if districts operate an on-campus virtual school, defining that as one where students take all their courses online at a physical campus. 15% of online/blended learning districts indicated that they operate an on campus virtual school.

On Campus Virtual Schools


Planning for the Future

To those districts that indicated that they aren’t currently providing eLearning, we asked “Is your district currently discussing or planning to implement online learning?” Surprisingly, 27% of districts not currently utilizing online learning indicated that they were currently in the planning stages to offer online and/or blended learning in the future.

Districts Planning to eLearn

With just 17% of districts participating three weeks into the census, these preliminary results will most likely change. However, i do think the trend shows we have passed the point of no return for online and blended learning. I’ll have much more data in part two of this series.



3 thoughts on “Online Learning: Point of No Return, Part One

  1. Pingback: Kevin's iSite » Blog Archive » When Will Blended Learning Be Mainstream

  2. My brother did a online learning course a year ago. He really enjoyed the online course since he could do it from home. The only downside he said that if he had a question it would take a while to get a answer from the professor and then when he did it was difficult to convey both ways the question and answer.

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