Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's all about the money - or is it?

Last week, along with nine other Jewish educators, I spent two great days at the iNACOL 2011 Virtual School Symposium. In addition to the unique opportunity (thank you Avi Chai Foundation) for collaboration with other Jewish educators, this meeting gave me the opportunity to sit with dedicated and innovative educators from all over the world and discuss how online learning and the blended classroom can impact on and improve all our schools.

Not surprisingly, a much raised topic at the VSS, in addition to online education itself, was the financial aspect of virtual schooling. Most Jewish day schools populations are examining the online and blended classrooms models particularly because they think they may bring financial savings. And, this is also one of reasons that the public school system first considered this type of learning - read more about it here and here.

Why should online learning cost less than the classical classroom? It seems that the greatest savings are in the teacher-student ratio. The nature of the technology allows an online teacher to work with many more students without compromising the teacher-student relationship.

Many of the presenters at VSS were talking about the blended or hybrid classroom. Many educators feel that this model can lower costs (more students per teacher) without compromising learning and it is already being implemented around the world. The blended classroom offers the flexibility of learning online, the ongoing support from a teacher and the comfort of the brick-and-mortar setting.

From discussions I had with others at iNACOL, it seems clear that the need for financial savings encouraged research and innovation in the field of online learning. At first the public school system embraced the virtual classroom because they thought it would solve a number of their problems including financial ones, but they then began to see that this would only be a viable alternative if the online options were at least as good -- or better -- than the bricks and mortar school. Funds were poured into this technology because of the long-term implications and the educators involved saw an opportunity to use these funds to design a the 21st century classroom.

Blended-learning classrooms are more interactive; the students “do and learn” rather than “sit and listen”; these classrooms free the teacher from the ‘housekeeping’ of teaching and allow them to focus on what they love and do best– teach.

Online learning is not just about saving money and it’s not about letting computers teach our children. It’s about letting the students learn as far and as fast as they can. It’s about allowing each student to move safely at her/his own rate. Online and blended learning increases competency-based learning provides students with increased opportunities for real-time feedback (assessment), personalized learning, and experiential-based learning opportunities. Blended learning is about designing platforms that let great teachers have the best tools to teach our children.

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