Online learning at least not terrible, says study

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The first high-quality study of online education in a K???12 setting finds Florida high school students taking algebra or English 1 online performed as well on state math and reading tests as students taking those same classes in a traditional school setting. The study does not show an advantage for online instruction, but it also does not show a disadvantage–and online classes are less expensive.

So the study is not a huge boost for online-education proponents, who frequently rhapsodize about the brighter world we???ll all see once tech tools ???customize every child???s education,??? but neither is it a setback.

It???s not really a strong selling point to say online education is comparable to current in-person instruction, given that U.S. education outcomes are mediocre. At least online classes are cheaper. If anything, the study is a knock on the status quo, and especially the teaching profession, because it shows that less interaction with a teacher produces about the same outcomes as more. If studies continue to find this is the case, why not move more instruction online and at least save taxpayers some money?

Anyone who has ever taken a life-changing, in-person class would never think online classes can offer a compelling substitute. Some teachers enliven the rest of your life in a way a computer never can. But many, if not most, classes children take are not life-changing, wonder-filled experiences with compelling teachers. There???s the rub.

Life rarely offers people optimal choices, however. People must typically choose between several imperfect options. Perhaps this study offers an opportunity to step away from the foolish, utopian rhetoric that pervades education–???no child left behind??? and ???race to the top??? come to mind–and consider that, while nearly no one will get a perfect education, at least children can get a better education for less money, and online education could be one such way to accomplish this more realistic goal.