I just had a very interesting conversation with Julie Linn, Chief of Staff for K12.com, a private online school which also offers individual online courses to public and private schools looking to supplement their course offerings.

Having read Disrupting Class a few years ago (thanks to Scott McLeod’s fantastic K12Online Conference 2009 presentation), it seems clear that online learning is going to be a powerful catalyst for change in schools, so I was very interested to hear exactly how K12 would pitch their services to an established international school like ISB.

Here are a few highlights about K12 and what they offer:

  • They employ over 2,000 full-time teachers.
  • They have courses from Kindergarten to grade 12. Wow! I wonder what an online kinder course looks like?
  • The k-8 program uses their proprietary learning management system. For all K-8 courses, K12.com requires on-site personal support for the student, like a personal learning coach (who could be a parent or a tutor).
  • The high school runs the e-college learning management system and does not require any on-site personal support.
  • They use a blended approach for all courses, many include K12-authored, proprietary textbooks and physical kits which are sent to students for, for example, science lab courses.
  • They offer a lot of varitety particualrly in specialist areas, like technology; including courses like: Digital Photography and Graphics, Game Design I and II, 3D Game Creation, Flash Animation, etc.

According to Julie, many international schools are already embracing online learning with K12. The early adopters are mostly smaller schools, who do not have the diverse on-site course offerings of larger schools. The larger schools usually start with interest in online courses for summer school, or for students who are in need of higher level course work but are not social ready to be with older students.

In addition to these highlights, there are a few clear reasons why online course offering would be especially attractive to international schools:

  • the difficulty of ensuring diverse offerings at international schools (especially smaller schools) because of the limited number of students (and teachers) interested in certain courses,
  • the frequency of some families’ needs to move from country to country, and their desire for consistency in education for their children,
  • the need for differentiation in content level and offerings, especially when students are coming from so many different schools. What happens to the student who’s been in a Spanish immersion school for 4 years who moves to Thailand, where all that’s on on offer is a World Language course geared towards the students who have taken it as a second language for a year or two?
  • the desire for retaining mother-tongue languages in a new country. How great would it be for a Swedish student in Thailand to be able to take Swedish language courses with a Swedish teacher?

All of those factors seem like great reasons to invest in online learning opportunities, even for a large school like ISB that does have a wide variety of onsite offerings.

After chatting with Julie, some challenges or considerations for international schools investigating programs like K12.com also came up:

  • Ensuring the integrity of the program (pointed out by Chad): it doesn’t seem like there is an infrastructure for proctoring exams – students just take them on their own, which could lead to cheating or sharing logins to allow students to pose as other students. Maybe this is something the individual school can implement.
  • Ensuring correct placement: it seems that the on-site coordinator (a teacher, counselor, or curriculum coordinator employed by the school, who is the liaison between K12 and the school) determines which class to place a student in based on the provided scope and sequence. When interactive testing is so easy and efficient (we MAP test twice a year, but only in Math and Language), wouldn’t it be ideal to have pre-assessments to determine which course a student should enroll in?
  • All of the current language offerings seem to be aimed at English speakers desiring to learn a new language. When providing a spectrum of services for an international school population, a more diverse selection of language learning offerings might be desirable.
  • Similarly, because K12.com is based in the US, their scope and sequence seem to be very linked to American models, which might not be optimal for international school usage without modification. I’m wondering how their course structure would fit in with the PYP, MYP and DP for example.
  • In one of the blended models outlined by K12.com, where some students might be taking some of their courses at a physical school as well as online, the question arises of where and how the online learning will intersect with their daily school schedule. Will students simply be going to the library to work on their online classes at certain points during the day? This seems like an area which might require careful planning and resource management on the school’s part in order to coordinate.

Final Thoughts

It’s very exciting for me to see online learning becoming more popular in international schools. It might be easy for those of us working in international schools to see our education model as unchanging because there will always be expatriate children needing a global education, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. The ability to keep a consistent educational context for children, the convenience of being able to move from country to country without all of the interviews and paperwork required for changing schools, and the increasingly personalized school programs that can be developed when you can pick and choose from a wide variety of courses all lead me to believe that this is going to have a huge impact on international schools as well.

No matter what, I do think we will need to incorporate face-to-face interaction to help children learn social skills. But it will certainly be interesting to see how these kinds of supplemental offerings can/will become the disruptive innovation that forces schools to make some much-needed changes.

All of this reminds me just how important it is to be able to teach an engaging and interactive online course – we might be doing it more regularly (and sooner) than we think.

Does your school run or offer online courses? What are the most popular or useful offerings? How do you think this shift in the world of education will affect schools and learning in the near future?

26 thoughts on “International Schools and the Rise of Online Learning

  1. I agree with you in the importance of face to face interaction to improve a child’s social skills, but why can’t these online classes also incorporate that same visual human interaction (video chat)?

    Great post, Kim!

    1. Abby,

      Well, I definitely think, especially for younger children, it’s critical to have physical interaction and face to face socialization. There’s lots of research about younger children and screen time – most of it recommending the least amount of time possible. Plus, I also feel strongly that physical social skills translate directly to virtual social skills, and it’s often easier to truly understand those skills in a face-to-face setting. Of course, this is not to say that online classes shouldn’t include video chat – just that the real-life interaction is critical too.

  2. Kim,
    I agree with your thoughts about how there needs to be a system of checks to make sure students are not cheating while doig the exams, or sharing logins. I know from expierence with online courses that most students just pull out their book when test time rolls around and will just use that instead of actually applying themselves.
    We have a similar program that our state education board has started here in Alabama called ACCESS Distant Learning. It is basically for the Honor student in high school wanting to get more challenging courses or ones that their school may not offer due to funding. I think it is very interesting how k12 starts at the beginning with kinders though!

    Thanks for your thoughts! I am a student at the University of South Alabama in the Educational Media 310 class.

    1. @Meghan,

      I have taken quite a few online courses myself and I do the same thing. But I think that’s often because the questions that are asked are just knowledge recall – which makes it easier to just get out the textbook and check the answer. I think we need to think about the way these classes run and what counts as evidence of learning. It’s just the same as the way we always talk about “authentic assessment” in the classroom. Somehow when we make the switch to online learning, we go right back to rote and multiple choice tests. Frustrating!

  3. Great post Kim! PBS Frontline this week was called “College Inc” and was talking about for-profit online higher education. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/collegeinc)
    During the entire program, I was thinking of the K12 implications (and companies like K12.com.) One of the courses I teach is called “Teaching K12 Students Online” (probably not too hard to figure out what the course is about!) Each and every one of my students must create an online course module — and while there is some fear and trepidation at first — they all end up creating wonderful, customized courses that fit perfectly into their own curriculum and school culture. It’s my hope, that the most disruption will come from within, from people like you (or my students and others) taking these “grass roots” online courses to their administrators and paving the way (rather than jumping on an existing model that may, or may not, fit into the curriculum.)

    We could go on about this for a while – playing devil’s advocate in my own head, I know the counter argument about the costs associated with training teachers to teach online, running a CMS, etc. But I don’t hear the solution suggested above offered very often — and it IS a solution and a possibility!

    1. @Leigh

      Sounds like a fantastic course to teach! I’m jealous! I just took the IBO Online Facilitator training and it was really interesting to see the diverse perspectives and experiences in the group – along with the ways that people really are able customize classes to show their personality and experience. It is amazing what you can do in what may feel like an impersonal environment.

      I completely agree about disruption from within – or from outside, like K12 or the IBO offers – along the lines of Disrupting Class. Online learning will succeed when it’s not directly comparable to a face-to-face offering, it needs to fill an additional need that the school may not be able to handle in a traditional setting. Then people will see the possibilities and advantages. I sure hope teachers are realizing now that they need to focus their own training on being able to facilitate online courses – those that stick their heads in the sand will probably be out of a job before long…

  4. Great post. I found a great non-profit that has been helping disadvantaged school districts and has had many success stories improving student achievement in Math, SAT and ACT including Collier County, FL and St. Landry Parish, LA. Their site is http://www.cyberlearning.org. CyberLearning also offers Technology courses that many schools could find useful.

  5. Wow this was really interesting. I had never thought of having an entire k-12 school online. Since I am a student that was homeschooled my entire life before college I can recognize the advantages of this. I am sure my mom would have appreciated the extra help when it came to teaching some higher level high school course to me right after she was teaching second grade material to my younger brother.

    I understand as well the trying to solve the integrity problem but I’m sure this is something that could be taken care of with enough dedication.


    1. @Christina,

      It’s interesting to think of online learning as homeschooling. I’m not sure that’s what it’s intended to be, but it does bring up some interesting parallels. In most cases, it seems like students are taking online classes physically at school during study hall periods or in place of another class. Even if classes are online, I think it’s important for students to experience face-to-face collaboration and socialization time at school with other students.

  6. Hi! I’ve taught at an International School in Sao Paulo, Brazil for 3 years, and can definitely see the desire of using more online learning at that level. I appreciate the points you made in this article, they were very insightful in drawing out the pros and cons of having a virtual classroom. Thanks!
    .-= Clara Chen´s last blog ..Tool 1 =-.

  7. Kim,
    I agree with you about the need for children to interact face to face. I have taught k and 1st grade disadvantage students for 15 years, and they do not have a lot of chances in their homes to interact with somebody, their parents are so busy working, sometimes with 2 or 3 jobs!. But we, educators, can do a lot for them at school to develop their social skills. Once they feel somebody cares for them, it will show in their academic progress.
    Thank you for your inspiration!

    1. @Clara,

      I agree, interaction with other students is so important. Understanding social and communication skills in a face-to-face setting translates directly to how successful students can communicate in an online setting.

  8. My daughter was very interested in Asian cultures and living in rural midwest was not a place to learn more about this topic. Luckily her school did a online course program that earned her extra credit studying languages and more. Now she is a sophmore in college majoring in anthroplogy and linguistics. Not bad for a kid whose school did not offer anything even close to what she was interested in.
    .-= ava´s last blog ..Did you know that BooJee Ribbons can be worn three ways =-.

    1. @Ava,

      What a great example! The possibilities of online learning are limitless, aren’t they?

  9. Mrs. Cofino,

    I am a student at the University of South Alabama and have taken many online classes. I have been in online classes where getting an “A” was extremely easy due to tests that weren’t challenging. It’s easy to cheat in online classes, even though we shouldn’t. Also in online classes, the majority of the time I feel like I don’t even know my teacher, and he or she doesn’t know me. I like teacher-student communication and I feel it’s important-especially in Elementary Education.
    Thank you for your post!

    Krysten A. Malone

    1. @Krysten,

      Did you ever have a good class online? I’m curious what the teacher did differently than in the other classes. This is one area where I’m curious and struggling myself. How do you build those student-teacher relationships if you never see each other? Plus, not all students (adults and teenagers alike) are not always intrinsically motivated, how do you have those kinds of reflective conversations if you are never able to meet? It definitely seems like a big challenge to me.

  10. Wow! I am surprised that they even have pre-school online learning. I think that it’s great we’re so advanced to that extent, but I always believe that there should still be a certain amount of teacher interaction. Online learning is good, but there should always be a teacher. Without a teacher guiding each student, I doubt the effectiveness of online learning.

    1. @Evangeline,

      I was surprised too, but when Julie explained it more as homeschooling than online learning, it made more sense. It’s not like the student sits at the computer all day, more that the resources are sent to the homeschool teacher and can be monitored via the online portal. Which includes that teacher guidance piece that you refer to.

  11. I actually worked for a BIG online college and one of the issues that we faced was creating a community feeling. I agree that online education will be a huge factor in the reform and future of our education system but I wonder how students will develop social skills.

    I know that lots of online high school education programs like K-12 and Park City Independent out there already. They are often used as supplements to homeschooling. Parents may have to fill the gap that online education leaves in the social lives of students through planning. This could lead to trouble since the whole reason we have an educational system is to bring up the “lowest common denominator” to a functioning level. Why are they so low? Lack of involvement and skills in parents.

    It will be interesting to see how this develops.

    1. @Mark,

      I agree that parental involvement is crucial, but I do think education and schools offer more than just raising the lowest common denominator (or at least they should). One of the reasons I think we will struggle to switch to an entirely online learning environment is the importance of learning how to socialize and interact with others. Spending time with peers, I think, will end up being one of the most important facets of education in the future as we move toward a more blended learning environment.

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