The Questions of Virtual Education

Nancy Anderson
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In a recent report from Education Week entitled "Virtual Education Seen as Understudied", the issue of virtual education is being examined these days to determine if it is being utilized to the fullest in can be. For those in an education career the use of virtual education tools (videos, internet interactive materials, etc.) has probably been a common occurrence for you by now, but education leaders, while needing to make informed decisions about online education as a whole, are finding that there is very little in the way of objective research available on the subject.

Online education has been the subject of some controversy in the past year or so, and as the use of virtual education has seen a lot of growth - with even further growth expected to come - the debate rages over the true effectiveness of it as a whole. Without solid research available, the subject is hard to decide upon either way.
Some policymakers, e-learning experts, and researchers say that K-12 virtual education is understudied, and that studies which can definitively say online learning works, or that it can surpass face-to-face education, or that in certain circumstances it provides the best opportunities for students, remains lacking even as interest in virtual education rises. Others say that research exists, but that it is often ignored because it looks at individual classes or small groups of students.
Out of the large amount of smaller group reports out there, it seems as of now that most are targeted as the higher education field, and too small a portion on the K-12 group to make much determinations. In 2009, the US Department of Education released a meta-analysis which looked at the subject of online learning, and concluded that:
...on average, students in online learning environments performed "modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.
Another smaller scale study is found in the 2007 "Study of the Effectiveness of the Louisiana Algebra I Online Course" which found "...mixed results when comparing students who took the face-to-face version of the algebra course and the online version, noting that those who took the online course felt less confident in their algebra skills, though they outscored those in traditional courses on 18 of 25 items on a test at the end of the course."

Another series of studies by Cathy Cavanaugh, from the University of Florida, says per her testing that research has already shown that online education can indeed be successful, but adds that the limited K-12 research (compared to the higher education research) means "we are always having to answer the same few questions: Does it work? How can students possibly develop socially? How can teachers and students form relationships? We do have some data, … but it's just a smattering of research, so it's not persuasive."

What are your thoughts on the use of online education these days? If you were asked to be a full time online virtual teacher, would you accept the position?

Jeff McCormack resides in Virginia Beach, VA. where he works as a web designer by day. In his off time he is a husband, father, mail order book store manager, and musician. Aside from being a freelance writer for this Education Jobsite blog, he also seeks to assist in career choices and information by contributing to other Nexxt blog sites.

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