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Cover of Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States 2011 According to the Sloan Consortium’s recent report titled "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011:"

  • Online enrollments are growing at ten times the rate of the overall higher education student population.
  • Thirty-one percent of all higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Over 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term; an increase of 560,000 students over the number reported the previous year.

 

 

Meanwhile, American Public Media’s Steven Smith spoke with National Online Teacher-of-the-Year Kristen Kitt, who teaches English for the 21st Century Virtual Academy in Jefferson County Colorado.

 

Appreciating that quality distance education can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of brick-and-mortar institutions, Smith began his podcast by noting that parents in some financially-struggling districts are opting for online programs as an alternative to troubled on-the-ground schools.Click on the image above to hear American RadioWorks conversation with Kristen Kitt, National Online Teacher of the Year.

 

2011 Online Learning Survey Infographic

Any Time, Any Place Convenience

Kristen Kitt notes that any-time, any-place convenience is as true for those teaching online as for those learning online.

“The majority of my work does happen asynchronously, which is actually amazing as an online teacher. I have very flexible work hours,” notes Kitt, “and my students work very flexible hours. They come to online learning for a whole variety of reasons. I have a lot of teen moms, students who work full time, elite athletes. … We run the gamut … but a lot of times they need that flexibility to be able to come to school.”

Time to Focus = Time on Task

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.2 million children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can turn the traditional classroom into a rubber room.

Kitt states that “there are a lot of students in our full-time population for whom regular school did not work for them because of the social aspect. There were too many distractions and we wanted to get rid of the distractions to really just be able to focus on their academics.”

Highly Customized Instruction

Consider the traditional classroom where a single instructor competes for airtime with thirty or more students. Not exactly the best place for personalized instruction.

Yet Kitt states that she is “able to be a lot more flexible with students’ needs. There’s no stigma around the need to adjust students’ course work depending upon what they are going through and what their skills are because there is no class of 30 other students watching over their shoulders. I am able to customize for students in a way that I never was able to teaching face to face, and that is part of the reason why I am so excited about this.”

Content is King/Contact is Queen

Kitt is a proponent of human presence. She believes that for distance education to go from good to great, it needs to be imbued with the richness and diversity of our personalities.

“In online learning we need to be great with content but we also need to be great with teaching. We need to make sure that kids are still connecting with a caring adult who can challenge them to be the best they can be. We also need to challenge them to connect with each other and be social in this online learning environment. We are social beings. Even though my students are online, they are socializing via that online medium, through our discussion boards, through group projects, community activities and volunteering.”

Smith asked Kitt if she missed the “face-to-face” contact she had with her traditional classroom-based students. “I actually know my students better than I did when I taught face to face,” she noted. “They are not afraid to share their stories with me, there’s no pressure of thirty other students in a room, so they’re very real with me and I get to know them on a very deep level even though I’ve never met them face to face.”

What’s your view of distance education? Have you taken an online class? Have you taught one? Are you the administrator for an online program? Do you see distance education and blended learning as a vanguard of higher education’s increasingly decentralized future? We’d like to hear what you have to say.<>