Online Education Finding Adherents Among the Young

Enthusiasm for online learning is growing among young people, a new study from Project Tomorrow has found. When asked how online courses could help them learn, 56% of respondents said that online courses would help them learn at their own pace – up 5% since 2009.

More than half of those polled also believed that online education puts the student in the driver’s seat by allowing each one to make their own choices about what works best. Students listed a number of additional benefits including an easier review process, more independence in learning, and a greater chance of academic success.

Project Tomorrow has been canvassing students about their thoughts on education over the internet for ten years now as part of their Speak Up initiative. Students interviewed this year were also polled in the 2003 edition of the report.

“To some extent these students have been guinea pigs as their teachers have learned how to use tools such as interactive white boards, mobile devices and online content, and then brought new strategies for technology integration into the classroom,” said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, in a prepared statement. Meanwhile, these third graders who were so excited about playing educational games and getting their first email account in 2003 have developed and refined their own digital learning profile outside of school. They have opened our eyes to help us understand that digital learning is not just about games but it can be about developing college and career skills and personalizing the process to make the learning experience richer for all students.”

Students also expressed a preference for using their own devices in class to learn, but many were unable to do so due to policies imposed by their school administrators or even teachers. According to the students, schools used methods from firewalls to block non-school-related websites such as social media to a complete prohibition of text messaging during the school day. Aside from taking issue with firewalls, the responses from 2003 listed a different set of challenges including school internet connection being too slow, the equipment being broken or outdated and software that didn’t work well with the technology available on campus.

Other key findings of the survey include:

Only 21 percent of teachers who responded said they assign Internet homework at least once a week, but 69 percent, 61 percent, and 47 percent, of students in grades 12, 9, and 6, respectively, reported going online weekly to find some kind of support for their assignments;

From 2011 to 2012, the number of middle school students who reported having their own digital reader doubled from 17 percent to 39 percent;

Tablet ownership among middle school students who were surveyed also doubled from 2011 to 2012, to 52 percent from 26.