Research: Online School History

Continuing my review of literature from my dissertation, I previously wrote about students at risk and charter schools.  This next series of posts deals the research about online schools.  The focus of my research is on K-12 online learning.  Here is a little history about online learning that will put the rest of the research into context.

The bulk of studies regarding online learning have focused first upon defining, and then describing the benefits and challenges of K-12 online learning (Cavanaugh et al., 2009).  Similar to charter school research, part of the issue is the newness of the innovation – the first K-12 online school began in 1997 – making online learning just 11-years-old.  Secondly, researchers are still defining the type of research that is needed regarding online learning since it is important to know “how students engage in their learning in this environment prior to conducting any rigorous examination of virtual schooling (Cavanaugh et al., 2009, p.3).  Finally, there are a variety of online school variables (full time or part time students, synchronous or asynchronous course strategies, hybrid or fully online courses, etc.) that exist which make it challenging to either compare two different online schools, or to compare online schools with traditional schools.  Much of the published literature is based upon the personal experiences of those involved in the practice of virtual schooling.  As other researchers have noted, few experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies have been found in published literature from 1996 to 2008 that compare the learning effectiveness of online learning with face-to-face instruction (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009).  Picciano and Seaman (2008) explain that online learning in K-12 education is in its nascent stages and significant growth is yet to come.

Here is a brief history of online learning.  Researchers generally trace the first online school at the college level back to the United Kingdom in 1970 with the opening of the Open University.  In the K-12 arena, the first online schools can be traced  back to Choice 2000 in California which opened in 1994.  The first statewide online schools opened between 1994 and 1997 in Utah, Massachusetts and Florida.

  • 1967 – German Professor Otto Peters proposes “an industrialized theory for distance-teaching organizations.”
  • 1969 – First Internet nodes established: MIT, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara.   (Source: Hobbes Internet)
  • 1971 – Great Britain “Open University” enrolls first distance education students utilizing television and Internet technology
  • 1972 – Email program written and first Internet chat takes place at UCLA (Source: Hobbes Internet)
  • 1985 – Quantum Link Community College establishes Computer Assisted Learning Center in New Hampshire
  • 1991 – California: Laurel Springs Private School established for K-12 distance education students.
  • 1991 – Minnesota passes first charter school law authorizing charter schools.
  • 1992 – California: SB 1448 law.  Charter school law passed, second state in the nation to do so.
  • 1993 – World Wide Web browser developed.  (Source: Hobbes Internet)
  • 1994 – California: Choice 2000 charter school established in Riverside County (voice over Internet used for teaching courses)
  • 1994 – Utah Electronic School established.
  • 1996 – Virtual High School (VHS, Inc.) established in Massachusetts through a Federal Tech Challenge Grant.
  • 1997 – Florida Virtual School established.  First courses taught to 70 students (Developed through state grants).
  • 1999 – Number of people using World Wide Web: more than 50%

Overall, it is again important to note that when something is an innovation, such as online learning, it takes awhile for a body of research to develop because, first, the variables and aspects of the innovation have to be defined.  K-12 online learning has been around for just over 10 years, so the research continues to emerge.

More tomorrow about studies about online learning and student achievement.

**Rob’s entire dissertation can be found here.

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3 Responses to “Research: Online School History”


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  1. 1 Research: Defining online schools « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on May 11, 2011 at 5:56 am
  2. 2 Research: Online Learning, part 1 « California Dreamin' by Rob Darrow Trackback on May 12, 2011 at 5:44 am

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