Is the traditional classroom disappearing forever or simply experiencing a transformation due to economic factors? At a time when the lack of local and state revenues is constraining their budgets, secondary schools are seeking solutions to student and parent demands for course availability and adminstrative concerns over maintaining faculty. In response to this crisis, many schools are implementing or expanding existing online learning programs.
In an article published this week at forbes.com, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and fellow author Michael Horn report that because of reduced tax revenue due to the housing crisis, school districts are facing significant deficits. They point out that despite federal stimulus funds, as well as a 10% increase in teachers in the past decade and only a 5% increase in student enrollment, many schools are forced to make budgetary cuts in order to meet their costs of operation. These cost cutting measures are causing schools to examine all possible venues in order to maintain their academic standards,
The answer for many secondary schools is the implementation of online courses. According to Christensen and Horn, more than 70% of school districts nationwide offer some form of online learning, including advanced placement courses and foreign language programs. These online alternatives allow schools to stay within their budgets while enabling them to meet the demand for classes they would otherwise be unable to fund, as well as to retain their teaching staff.
So what does this trend in online learning mean for the future of secondary education? Christensen and Horn, from their observations of economic factors, believe that online learning programs are on track to replace the tradition classroom completely. They cite the prevalence of online courses already available to students through their schools and the recent increase in online learning providers as evidence of a permanent shift toward online learning for middle and high school students.
While the current economy encourages schools to employ technology in order to continue a quality academic experience, the application of online learning to existing course offerings may simply represent innovation in education. The traditional classroom is experiencing a virtual transformation, but whether or not that change is pushing us inexorably to the elimination of schools altogether is questionable. For the present, online courses augment the traditional classroom experience, a trend that will certainly continue in the future as educators take advantage of technology to the benefit of both teachers and students.
To read the Christensen and Horn article, go to http://ww.forbes.com/2010/07/12/education-online-learning-leadership-careers-christensen.html.