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February 1, 2011

Double Take

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Research Alert

What's Up with Online Learning?

More than 1.5 million K–12 students in the United States engage in online or blended learning, according to a recent report. As of the end of 2010, 38 states had state virtual schools or state-led online initiatives; 27 states plus Washington, D.C., had full-time online schools; and 20 states offered both supplemental and full-time online learning options statewide.

Online learning has expanded the range of courses available to students, especially in small, rural, or inner-city schools—providing highly qualified teachers in subjects in which qualified teachers are unavailable; offering students scheduling flexibility; and providing opportunities for at-risk students, accomplished athletes and performers, dropouts, migrant youth, pregnant or incarcerated students, and students who are homebound to continue their studies outside the classroom.

The report provides snapshots of a variety of effective online programs. For example, the Florida Virtual School and the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative provide a supplement to face-to-face courses that students take at their regular schools. Many full-time online programs, in which students take their entire course of study online, are operated by national education management organizations, such as Connections Academy, K–12 Inc., and Insight Schools. Online learning also drives such innovative programs as the High School Diploma program, which serves 17- to 21-year-olds in the Cook County Jail outside Chicago.

To counter the claim that online learning tends to isolate students from their peers, the report highlights several approaches—such as creating student teams, conducting frequent field trips, scheduling monthly in-person meetings, and holding annual proms—that provide socialization opportunities for students.

A National Primer on K–12 Online Learning, Version 2, published by the International Association for K–12 Online Learning, is available at

Numbers of Note


World Spin


In South Korea, English-speaking robots are being deployed to teach English in many preschools, kindergartens, and elementary schools. A senior research engineer at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology pointed out that "the educational robot system helps increase students' interest and self-motivation in studying English and improves their English skills."

"Telepresence" robots are controlled remotely by a human teacher outside the classroom; another version of the robot, which doesn't connect students to a human, uses voice recognition technology to hold scripted conversations. Having robots in the classroom is one way the country is dealing with a scarcity of qualified teachers.

Only Online

Turned On—to Books

Book Drum ( is a resource to get media-oriented screenagers interested in classic literature. This interactive website presents a wealth of material related to more than 100 classic and popular books.

The site has extensive, media-rich profiles for each featured book. The Bookmark (a page-by-page commentary) for the first few pages of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, for instance, includes an illustration of a British manor house that shows what Netherfield Park (the large mansion leased to the Bingleys) might have looked like; an explanation of the elaborate social rituals for introductions that held sway in Austen's time; and a video showing the English country dancing described in scenes throughout the novel. Also included are a glossary, author biographical information, and a synopsis of the book.

Book Drum is similar to a wiki. Teachers can arrange for students to create a profile there of any book they're reading in class. Students can add facts, maps, and illustrations— and they will enjoy seeing what fellow users in the online Book Drum community add to their completed profile.

Relevant Reads

Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers (Harper, 2010)

"We're losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it's astounding that we're allowing this to happen." (p. 4)

Digital technology has brought a combination of excitement and stress to our lives. The excitement comes from suddenly having the whole world at our fingertips; the stress comes from the 24/7 connectedness that has made our lives so busy.

Although Powers puts things into perspective by chronicling other eras in human history in which new technologies have caused social ferment and confusion, the bulk of his book urges readers to make time and space to disconnect from the ubiquitous screen. For educators, this raises the question, How can we help students strike a balance between two opposing human impulses: the need for outward connections and the need for inward reflection?


"By the time they leave high school, students should be 'Googleable,' associating their full names with their best work for a global audience to see."<ATTRIB>—Will Richardson, p. 22</ATTRIB>

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