Broadband: Huge potential, but access barriers remain

Broadband access boosts online learning’s potential, educators say.

Broadband internet access is crucial for student learning as online and blended learning expand throughout the country, but obstacles such as digital access and policy roadblocks must be addressed, said panelists during an Internet Innovation webinar on broadband’s potential in education.

A broadband backbone is invaluable for expanding learning quality and opportunities for students and teachers when it comes to differentiated instruction, content, communication, and administrative needs, said David Teeter, director of policy for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

Broadband supports online and blended learning, enables and enhances personalized learning and differentiated instruction, and supports decision-making.

Teeter offered a quick glance at online and blended learning across the country:

  •  30 states have state virtual schools or initiatives.
  • 10 states have online learning initiatives.
  •  50 states have significant state policies.
  • 30 states and Washington, D.C. allow more than 200 full-time virtual charter schools, with more than 250,000 students.
  • 30 percent all employers use eLearning for training, and in five years that figure will jump to 50 percent.
  • More than 70 percent of school districts in the U.S. offer online courses to students.

“Reliable and robust broadband is really critical,” Teeter said.

District online and blended learning programs are growing dramatically with broadband support. Broadband also offers expanded opportunities when it comes to instructional materials and open access, and under the Common Core State Standards, districts and states are working to develop materials for professional development, content, and learning.

Broadband access in education can:

  • Enable data systems and platforms to support teaching and learning.
  • Help schools and districts as textbooks are replaced by digital content in coming years.
  • Increase data availability and the ability to provide consistent electronic education records, which are able to be exchanged across schools and across the states.

“[These are] really exciting opportunities, but it’s really important that schools, districts, and states make sure the broadband capacity is in place to enable this,” Teeter said.

Insufficient connectivity creates gaps in districts and states that are able to take full advantage of broadband for education. Limited data access and lack of transparency present additional hurdles, because legislative and regulatory barriers inhibit online learning—for instance, teachers often cannot teach across state lines, and course accreditation is often based on seat time and not on outcomes or results.

Laura Ascione

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