Survey: Majority of School District Administrators Endorse Online Classes

Key challenges facing school districts, including budget realities and the need to improve student engagement, are driving district administrators to embrace online learning, according to a survey report released today from Blackboard Inc. and Project Tomorrow®. According to the report, a majority of school district administrators – 52 percent – now endorse online classes, up from just one-third who felt the same in 2007 and matching the overall level of support from parents.

The report also found consensus on the perceived value of online learning to postsecondary success. More than two thirds of administrators and almost half of students in grades 6-12 (45 percent) and their parents (46 percent) voiced support for requiring high school students to take an online class in order to graduate. Currently, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Michigan and Virginia have instituted an online learning requirement.

A growing familiarity with digital learning has also helped drive the emergence of individualized learning tools in classrooms, such as virtual, online, blended and mobile platforms. The report, which analyzes trends in opinion over time, found that for the first time since 2007 the percentage of students who have not already taken an online class but are interested, exceeds those who are not interested in taking an online class at all.

“We found that a greater acceptance of digital learning is the driving force behind personalized education,” said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow. “Parents are encouraging teachers to customize learning environments and students are thriving through these tailored types of learning. Since 2007, we have easily seen an increase in sophistication around online learning as well as a new blending of emerging technologies, such as mobile and digital textbooks.”

Despite growing momentum and interest in online learning, principals demonstrated some reluctance to bring mobile technology into the classroom. According to the survey, two thirds of principals voiced opposition to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement and only 21 percent say it is likely that they would allow students to bring their own mobile devices to school.

“The student experience is shifting because of an increased interest in opportunities for online courses and blended learning,” said an online learning coordinator from Virginia who participated in the survey. “School districts are embracing a variety of paths that allow students to work at their own pace and meet administrative goals. As parents, teachers and administrators begin to see how online learning can provide new and improved opportunities, the demand for online courses increases.”

The findings are included in the report, Learning in the 21st Century: A Five Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning, prepared by Blackboard Inc. and Project Tomorrow, which compares education technology issues first reported in 2007 with the online learning headlines of 2012. Based on data from the 2011 Speak Up survey, the report captures views on student, educator and parent interest in online and digital learning opportunities from 416,758 K-12 students, parents, teachers and administrators across the U.S.

Learning in the 21st Century: A Five Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning, was released at the 2012 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference in San Diego.