In a revealing study of electronic learning (eLearning) trends, Apex Learning and Blackboard Inc. indicated that more than half of United States high schools now offer online courses or are exploring them for the future.

The study, “Online Courses and Other Types of Online Learning for High School Students,” was conducted by Interactive Educational Systems Design Inc. of New York City. The results were unveiled at the American Association of School Administrators conference in San Diego Feb. 15.

Researchers surveyed 447 high school principals and 345 school district administrators. Their findings revealed that more than 40 percent of all public high schools already use online courses or are planning to start using them during this school year. Another 17 percent are interested in offering online courses in the future.

The study also revealed that 32 percent of public school districts will adopt and use an eLearning platform for the first time in 2002.

“When we began this study, we expected that we would see a fair number of schools offering online courses, but the momentum that virtual learning is building in U.S. high schools is noteworthy,” said Jay Sivin-Kachala, principal investigator. “The data suggest that many educational leaders are committed to taking advantage of the benefits that online courses can offer their students.”

School administrators who were surveyed indicated they are turning to online courses to help tackle a number of challenges.

Delivering a broader curriculum cost effectively and expanding college preparation and Advanced Placement offerings were among the top reasons they gave for adopting online courses. Providing educational equity and resolving scheduling conflicts also were cited as key motivators.

When selecting a vendor for online courses, survey respondents reported that an accredited curriculum was the number one factor in their decision-making process. Other important factors included affordability; configuration for the needs of grades 9-12; ease and speed of implementation; reporting of student progress and outcomes; and realistic time and training demands on district and school staff.

To read the report’s executive summary, go to http://www.apexlearning.com or http://www.blackboard.com.