Monday, 27 July 2009

Online Schooling in the UK?

'Learning without Limits' by Christine Van Dusen. EsN April 2009

Whilst I was reading this interesting special report in-school News, I was struck by the notion that although there seems to be some evidence that the nature of schooling is beginning to change in the United States, with 44 states offering some kind of online schooling within their public school provision, very little seems to be happening in the UK.

Online schooling is still seen to be very much as the domain of the sick, disabled or celebrity pupils who can’t attend normal schooling . Online students are thought to be considerably worse off and less well socialised than normal school pupils. However, the US experience seems to contradict this with many normal schools using online schooling to address greater personalisation and augment their curriculum to allow students to raise their attainment levels and learn at their own pace. This would seem also to reduce stress on fixed resources, allow for more flexible use of time, respond to pupils' learning styles and encourage motivation and engagement. The responsibility for learning can be shared between the teacher and the pupil as the basis of online schooling is greater interaction between teachers and learners and between learner and learner and allows for just as much opportunity for group work and collaboration as the traditional school.

As many local authorities are looking at rebuilding their school estate, now might be the time to consider the potential contribution of online schooling to the transformation of learning in the future. Schools are already heavily engaged in tackling the problems of more flexible working required by the 14-19 curriculum and online schooling may well help in this respect. School buildings could be smaller or schools could be appreciably larger but with fewer students attending the physical school at any one time. The virtual school could tackle the problems that occur through bad weather (two weeks closure every time it snows?!?) or what to do when there is a swine flu pandemic and all the schools are closed and enable learner with special needs to be truly accommodated. Students can access learning at a time, place and pace that suits them and the development of fully integrated learning platforms in every school ought to be key to the delivery of online schooling in the future.

As it is, the Government in the UK is currently suggesting that should schools have to remain closed in September to contain the spread of swine flu, students will be able to attend virtually. It remains to be seen how many schools in this country have the infrastructure and resources in place to accomodate this.

David Meaton