Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 Virtual School Symposium Recap

2011 iNACOL Virtual School Symposium
This week I attended the 2011 Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Over 1,900 educators interested in online learning were in attendance.

After participating in numerous workshops led by a variety of administrators and educators as well as listening to keynote addresses from Susan Patrick (president of iNACOL) and representatives from the Department of Education, and speaking with vendors I came away with the follow thoughts:

1. K-12 Online learning is in a state of great flux. Very few things that are currently being done or products that are currently being sold will be around in the next 3-5 years.

2. Variety and Flexibility is Limited. Vendors have given large school districts what they asked for-- turn key solution for online programs. The problem is that these solutions are not meeting the needs of smaller programs. Assembling a program from the best offerings of multiple vendors is not currently an option due to the restrictive and proprietary systems that companies have created.

3. Hardware and Software vendors are not working together. Online learning resources are being developed using Java and Flash technologies. Apple and Google, are resistant to support of these products. iOS devices won't run flash and Google's new Chromebook doesn't support client-side Java.

Posing with the Brain Honey Bee!
4. Data is not portable. Lots of data on student achievement, progress, and activity is being collected however very little of this data can/is being used in useful ways. LMS systems collect all kinds of information but teachers and administrators are having a difficult time mining and filtering that data to better understand student needs. Moving data between systems is virtually impossible.

5. The US is behind. Many of the best innovations in education related to online learning are from outside of the United States. Check out the interesting and exciting things being done by Heritage Christian Schools (Canada) and the Sydney Center for Innovation in Learning (Australia).

There is great consensus that online learning will have a significant impact on learning in the next 20 years. Drops in student achievement, graduation rates, and school finance challenges underscore the need for significant change. It's clear, however, the the online learning industry is far from mature.

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