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The Global Race for Online Learning: How Does America Compare?

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The potential for K-12 online learning in the U.S. is still being realized. It seems that every year the amount of K-12 students taking courses online grows exponentially, fueled by a trickle-down effect from college offerings and the rise of Massive Open Online Courses. Consider these statistics:

• Over 1.8 million K-12 students took distance-learning courses during the 2009 - 2010 school year.

• 275,000 K-12 students were enrolled full-time in online schools during the 2011 - 2012 school year.

• Five states (Florida, Michigan, Idaho, Virginia and Alabama) require high school students to take at least one online course in order to graduate.

• 450 percent - that is the rise in students enrolled full-time in online public schools since 2006.

• 31 states had fully online school options in 2012, up from only 18 in 2007.

It seems that the tip of the iceberg has not even been chipped when it comes to online K-12 learning in the U.S. But how do we measure up to other countries? The short answer is that the U.S. is the leader in online learning due in part to our widespread access to broadband internet and how common it is in households and schools. Other nations are racing to catch up though. Take a look at some of the efforts being made to improve online learning across the globe:

England. Last month, plans were announced to offer Massive Open Online Courses at 23 British universities, opening up free educational options for millions. Future Learn is intended to provide educational opportunities to citizens that may not have access to a brick and mortar college or university or lack the funds for the courses. It is unclear whether these classes will be available for credit at the participating institutions, but certificates of completion will be made available. The technology used to develop this program will certainly influence future K-12 initiatives and also school many parents on the benefits of learning remotely.

China. If you want to know what industries are on the rise in China, just follow the money trail. In 2012, only six reported investments in K-12 online learning were reported. Through July of this year, that number was already up to 22. American companies like Coursera already have a presence in Chinese online learning but more home-grown companies, like Huijang and 91Waijiao, are entering the market. Expect to see an explosion of online elementary and secondary learning in China over the next five years.

Canada. In 2011, enrollment in distance education courses for children in Canada was only around 4.2 percent for the total student population. That number is rising though, despite highly-publicized criticism from teacher's unions. An initiative in Nova Scotia seeks to nearly triple the number of students enrolled in online learning programs and Ontario is trying to centralize its online learning efforts to provide something similar to interdistrict learning in the U.S. Nine of the ten Canadian provinces have K-12 distance education programs run by the government.

K-12 online learning is certainly on the rise across the globe and as it increases in popularity, the U.S. may face competition when it comes to digital access for child learners. In a perfect world the strides being made in other countries will all benefit each other either directly or indirectly through competition. None of the technology matters, of course, unless student achievement improves and that is true in all nations. I'm interested to see how the global race for more K-12 online learning options impacts the well-established trend in the U.S. and how our students are affected.

What worldwide trends in K-12 online learning have you noticed?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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