Here are six trends and predictions to watch for in the New Year.
1. Just under 40 percent of all U.S. postsecondary students will enroll in at least one fully online course in the fall of 2011. The growth of postsecondary students taking at least one online course has continued year over year. In the fall of 2008, just under a quarter of students were taking at least one fully online course. In the fall of 2009, 29 percent of students did. Don’t expect this to slow down.
2. Public school budgets will continue to shrink, so more districts will do more business with online learning providers to fill in the gaps. Just as technology has made virtually every other sector in society more productive, the same will happen in K-12 education out of necessity. As the U.S. falls further behind other nations in educational achievement, doing less is not an option.
3. An increasing number of suburban schools will begin using online learning, too. Online learning has made its biggest impact in K-12 education to date in rural schools that cannot afford to offer breadth in their curriculum and in credit recovery and dropout recovery programs in urban districts. Two things will change this. First, suburban schools are increasingly feeling the pinch of tighter school budgets and of some students leaving for full-time virtual schools. They will therefore jump on the online learning bandwagon as well out of necessity. Second, as suburban parents begin to see children in other suburban schools accelerate ahead of their peers in other districts thanks to online learning, what was formerly a group that prevented changes in schools will begin to be a force for change. The full impact of this won’t be felt for a few more years, but the early signs of this will be increasingly visible in 2011.
4. Not to be outdone, education entrepreneurs will create high quality chartered schools that jump in the online learning game as well. They will do so by pioneering “blended-learning” schools, in which online learning is knit together with a supervised brick-and-mortar environment outside the home, so that they can scale faster—for less money and with better outcomes.
5. User-generated online content will begin to explode in education. The emergence and success of education rock stars like Sal Khan of the Khan Academy, which has attracted attention for its free online videos that teach math and science concepts and recently received a large grant from Google, will drive both the growth and awareness. The initial impetus for Khan to create videos that explained math concepts was simple: he was trying to help his cousins with their homework, so he created the videos from home and posted them to YouTube. More will follow suit. Some Fortune 500 companies are already seeing dramatic savings by turning to user-generated learning content—and they see no tradeoff in the quality of outcomes.
6. Mobile learning, the subject of increasing hype in the United States, will make its impact in the developing world first. Roughly 70 million children worldwide do not have access to primary school. Over 200 million do not attend secondary school. In the countries and regions where this is the reality, mobile learning will be a fast ticket to scaling education for people who historically have not had access to it.