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Is There a New Kid in Town?

By John Mikton

In today's international learning landscape the role of e-learning and online learning is providing more and more opportunities for international schools to leverage greater capacity and provide a differentiated venue for supporting their respective learning communities.
The growth of this learning medium in education and industry is significant, and the numbers reflect this. Some “5.6 million students took at least one online course in the fall of 2010, based on research by the Sloan Consortium,” and according to the US News Online Education Report “65.5 percent of all chief academic officers reported that online education is critical to the long-term strategy of an institution (in 2011).”
Many international schools have embraced blended learning in an effort to provide resources, information, lessons, assignments, and discussions outside of the traditional classroom, and to enhance and support the opportunities for students to interact with the curriculum. This blended approach is often facilitated through Moodle, Blackboard, Haiku and other learning management systems.
In certain areas of the world these learning management systems have played a critical role in supporting international schools in delivering their curricula and classes when the school has had to close due to environmental issues or political instability in the host country.
There are many cases of this happening over the years, and schools' online platforms have provided essential continuity of learning, communication, and support to their respective learning communities. These experiences by numerous international schools have naturally given these venues greater importance and attention. There is now a World Virtual School Project consortium for instance, of the eight international school regions; over the years this consortium has been a key player in building capacity for collaboration and implementation of learning management systems to support international schools.
There is also the Virtual High School, as well as; these are two of the many growing offerings available to schools to supplement and tap into this growing area. The IB has, a full, IB-authorized online learning platform that many schools are adopting to supplement their own face-to-face course offerings and which gives smaller schools the flexibility to offer a wider scope of topics to their students.
Today it is almost a "non-negotiable" for international schools to have some presence and resources in the sphere of online or blended learning. The flexibility and opportunities to extend the learning experience outside of the school walls; the ability to support students who are sick, absent, or out for personal reasons; and the prospect of allowing learning to continue beyond the school walls have become key ingredients of school culture.
Online learning is here to stay. And in its various forms blended or fully online learning come in two flavors:
• Synchronous: this is live, and the learner and course facilitator (teacher) interact live in real time, in a virtual classroom setting, in many ways in a simulation of a real classroom live on-line, through a video feed, or a video conferencing environment such as Adobe Connect.
• Asynchronous: this is not live, rather it allows the learner to work at their own pace within a timeline and not at the same time as other participants or the course facilitator (teacher), often with little live interaction.
Many universities adopting online learning called massive open online courses (or MOOCs, for short) have been getting a lot of attention in the media. Today more and more universities are adopting these e-learning platforms to deliver a variety of course options, some of them free and others fee-based. The MOOC model is set up to facilitate learning on a large scale and in an open access format. This is a growing area in higher education, and something that, in the long term, will also impact international schools.
This model is already being used with a variety of high schools (one example is, which are now offering "online high school" in different venues. This is becoming a rapidly growing market.
In industry online learning has also been adopted, and more and more companies and organizations are using this medium to support their workers' training and professional development. The advantages of this medium for these companies and organizations are cost-saving, but also the ability to replace in-person training with online training.
A couple facts to help frame this growing industry;
• "Global e-Learning Market to Reach US$107 Billion by 2015," according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.
• There were an estimated 1,816,400 enrollments in distance-education courses in K-12 school districts in the USA alone in 2009-2010, almost all of which were online courses. Some 74 percent of these enrollments were in high schools. (Queen, B., and Lewis, L. (2011) "Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2009-2010" (NCES 2012-009). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics).
In the context of these dynamics, and the huge growth and use of online learning ecosystems worldwide, for international schools this has become an area that cannot be ignored. In fact, there is already an online international school in Switzerland at the International School of Bern! The conveniences of these online ecosystems, which can include schedule flexibility, ease of access, students having the option to control their learning, multimedia tools, potential for differentiated learning, and the costs savings are all factors to be considered.
For international schools online learning is, and will continue to be, an important part of our learning ecosystem. As this industry grows, and continues to gain capacity, both locally and globally, to provide a robust, engaging education, international schools will need to provide this resource to their communities.
As educational institutions that have their place in the 21st century learning landscape, it is something we must harness, understand, and be able to deliver to our own learning communities. If we do not, someone else will!
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