wasting bandwidth since 1999

Learning to Work Online

Last week our governor signed a bill requiring high school students in the state to take at least one online course to graduate, beginning with the class of 2017.

I’m still not sure why.

A spokesperson for the governor says new requirement will “better prepare students for the job market of the 21st century”*.

I don’t understand how.

I’ve been facilitating online course for adults off and on for more than ten years. I took my first virtual class back in the days of the dial-up modem when the content was little different from correspondence courses that were snail mailed to your home.

That certainly doesn’t make me an expert on the matter, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about online learning is that it’s not the right solution for everyone. Some people don’t work well detached from the human contact that comes with a face-to-face situation.

Supporters of this idea argue that kids need to learn to work online because jobs increasingly demand those skills (now that we’re more than 10% of the way into the 21st century).

I agree. But is a formal course, especially one that is likely to be a virtual replica of a face-to-face class, necessarily the best solution?

More important than learning to take an online course – a somewhat narrow skill set that really only benefits the growing post-secondary education business – we should be helping students understand how to present themselves online. Allowing them to practice crafting messages for different audiences using a variety of delivery tools as part of their “standard” curriculum.

If you look carefully at that “job market” of the 21st century (which is now), workers increasingly need to know how to market themselves and learn new skills (often on the fly) to adapt for an ever changing employment landscape.

Is taking a canned online course going to help with any of that? I doubt it.

*Has anyone else noticed that we are already more than 10% into the 21st century and still our “leaders” discuss it as if it’s still in the distant future?


  1. Tim Owens

    It feels like a lot of information is missing and the cart is leading the horse (what’s new?). I’d like to know what these courses look like, if schools are required to use specific vendors or if they have freedom to develop their own. It makes little sense to me to simply say “Well let’s make this a requirement an we can work out the details later.” This feels very much like the “We’ll just put UWBs in every classroom.” approach as if putting a technology into people’s hands is all that’s required to suddenly create “21st Century Learners”. I’ll be interested to see how this develops because while the idea has potential it feels like building it into legislation is setting it up for failure before it’s out the gate.

  2. Tim

    As with all other directives from the state, they will leave it up to the local districts to figure out how to implement the vague language in the law. Which is another reason I think most kids will be told to register for online replicas of standard course offerings that will include little to help them understand how to actually communicate in that setting.

    But it won’t be a failure. We don’t do failure. Legislation like this either works (rarely) or more often it disappears as districts water the requirements down and shove them into the corner. The Virginia Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel is a great example of the later.

  3. Stephanie Sandifer

    I too have been facilitating online courses and I think I come to the same conclusions that you do on this issue. Based on my experience I agree that online learning is not for everyone.

    I think a better way to prepare students for “working online” is to have them do just that. Create more blended learning experiences — require blended learning in more classrooms — where students to do authentic work with others using online collaborative tools. Provide students with the opportunity to collaborate face-to-face as well as digitally. Pair up classrooms that are not in the same location and have students participate on virtual teams that model globally dispersed work teams…

    I also agree with your point about helping them to present themselves online — this is so often overlooked in policy and curriculum/instructional decisions.

    There are many other ideas beyond the one I am trying to describe above. My point is that a typical online learning classroom rarely mirrors real-world online work, and while there may be other benefits to offering online learning to students as an option, it should not be pushed on them for the purpose of “preparing them for the 21st century job market.”

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