A reader sent this question to me today:
I was wondering if you read Clayton Christensen’s prediction that by 2019, nearly 50 percent of high school courses will be taught online. What exactly did the author mean by this? Did he mean that by this particular date that nearly 50 percent of high school students will be at home doing virtual schooling or that 50 pecent of the high school courses will have an “alternative online option” to the course. I teach History, do you think there will still be a need for plenty of classroom History and Geography teachers?
This is a scary world we are living in.
I hadn’t read Clayton Christensen’s article before, but I’d heard the prediction elsewhere (Technology Seen Transforming U.S. Education System and The rise of ‘virtual schools’ divides education world, for example). I believe it means that half the courses taken will be taught online. For some students, that probably will mean they take all their courses online; for others, it will mean taking some courses face-to-face and some online. For example, a student might go to high school in the morning but take other courses online from home in the afternoon. I think we’ll also see continued growth in areas like online tutoring outside of the schools.
Online courses can give students more choices, for starters. Many schools in the US, especially rural schools, don’t have enough students to fill advanced math and science courses or to offer multiple choices for foreign languages. Online courses allow students in those schools to take subjects that simply wouldn’t be available to them otherwise.
There will absolutely continue to be a need for teachers with online schools. When we’re talking about virtual high schools, we’re talking about schools where teachers are employed. This isn’t homeschooling or completely self-paced learning; the student-teacher ratios are usually comparable to face-to-face classrooms. However, if you’re only willing to teach in a physical classroom and not willing to teach online, that may hamper your job opportunities in the future if the prediction is right. Your job prospects may depend on your willingness to learn to teach online, and it is a different set of skills than teaching in the physical classroom.
To get an idea of what a virtual high school might look like, check out the Colorado Virtual Academy. Their curriculum lists 20 different history and social sciences courses; clearly, the need for history teachers still exists.
Are we looking at a future where we’ll only need half the teachers we need now? No, I don’t think so. Are we looking at a future where the role of teachers changes, and many more people will teach online? Yes, I do believe that. I don’t think that’s scary though; I think it’s exciting. We have all these possibilities for global collaboration in education. We can provide choices for students so they can find the right environment for their individual learning.
For instructional designers and others who develop e-learning, I think the online K-12 market is definitely something to watch. Whether the prediction of 50% by 2019 is right or not, this is an area that’s going to grow. This is good news for instructional designers; it means a whole other market for jobs.
For teachers, I think this means a different set of opportunities–not necessarily more or less, just different. My guess is that teaching online will allow some teachers to do a “partial retirement”; instead of retiring from teaching entirely, they might choose to teach a few courses online while travelling or spending time on hobbies or whatever.
If you’re working in the online K-12 environment, either as a teacher or as an instructional designer, I’d appreciate hearing from you. How would you address the fears identified by this reader?