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Four key parts of successful online education programs


A number of considerations are necessary for success with online learning.

Progress monitoring tools and proper training in online teaching are critical factors in supporting and sustaining successful online education programs, according to a survey of school leaders.

The survey, released by K12 Inc. and conducted by MDR’s EdNET Insight, included responses from superintendents, assistant superintendents, curriculum directors, principals, and special-education directors who are experienced in implementing online education programs. The 220-plus respondents identified and ranked a number of key success factors.

Four factors were ranked by at least 80 percent of respondents as “extremely important” to the success of full-time online education programs, individual online courses, and credit recovery programs.

(Next page: The four factors in particular that contribute to successful online education programs)

Reporting tools/progress monitoring: These tools help teachers learn how students are understanding lessons. They monitor student performance and help educators understand if additional intervention is necessary. These tools can offer immediate and specific feedback to help educators personalize instruction for students.

Availability of teachers to assist struggling students: Teacher assistance can help struggling students from becoming too frustrated or disengaged. This is important in fully-online and blended learning programs.

Instructors who are well-trained in delivering online courses: Classroom teaching does not translate to online teaching, and educators must be specifically trained to teach online. These unique requirements include working with online curriculum, online collaboration, and other tools to help differentiate learning.

Offering rigorous and engaging curriculum: An engaging curriculum helps students remain involved in their lessons, move forward, and focus on learning. Proper design ensures that different methods are available to deliver content to different learning styles.

Sixty-six percent of respondents with district-level roles, or those most often making spending decisions, said online learning is less expensive or costs the same as traditional learning, and 22 percent said they do not know what online education programs cost.

The vast majority of districts use curriculum from commercial vendors for online credit recovery (88 percent), online courses (85 percent), and full-time online programs (82 percent).

Seventy-six percent of responding districts offer or have experience with an online credit recovery program. Sixty-six percent offer or have experience with online courses, and 36 percent offer or have experience with a full-time online program. Eight-four percent of districts with 10,000 or more students offer online credit recovery, as compared to 67 percent of small districts and 77 percent of medium-sized student districts. This difference, the report notes, might be owing to the fact that larger districts, typically urban, have more transient populations with higher dropout rates that increase the need for online credit recovery programs.

The survey responses also revealed a number of needs that aren’t being met in respondents’ online learning programs:

  • More professional development. As is the case with any new program in schools, teacher training is critical to the program’s success.
  • More student training. Students need to understand the attendance and homework commitment and have clear guidelines on how to be successful in an online learning program.
  • Better reporting tools. Within the online learning system, the data should be updated in real-time and available in an easy-to-digest format for the teachers and mentors. Additionally, face-to-face teachers should have access to this data and/or the data should feed into other online systems used in the district so there is one place to find all the relevant data on a student.

Other attributes deemed necessary for success in any of the three online learning formats include:

  • Offering remediation on prerequisite concepts needed for a course.
  • Student training and preparation.
  • Allowing students to test out of concepts previously mastered.
  • Dedicated administrators.
  • Broad course catalog.
  • Offering enough opportunities for face-to-face interaction with teachers and other students.

For more news about online and blended learning, see:

District’s answer to overcrowding: Blended learning

Report: Online learning needs quality assurance

New program prepares educators for blended learning

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Laura Ascione

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