Online learning is a good example of how an uncritical or even ideologically motivated application of technology to social problems simply shifts problems to other institution, regions, or classes. As state budgets come under strain, there is a temptation to turn to quick-fixes for deep structural problems. Online learning is increasingly being advocated as just such a revolutionary solution:
Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier, according to the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education. About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families, according to another report.
It is revealing, however, that online learning has been mostly applied to get remedial students to graduate:
The fastest growth has been in makeup courses for students who failed a regular class….even some proponents of online classes are dubious about makeup courses, also known as credit recovery — or, derisively, click-click credits — which high schools, especially those in high-poverty districts, use to increase graduation rates and avoid federal sanctions.
Is it any surprise that community colleges are being swamped by students unprepared for college?
About three-quarters of the 17,500 freshmen at the community colleges [of CUNY] this year have needed remedial instruction in reading, writing or math, and nearly a quarter of the freshmen have required such instruction in all three subjects. In the past five years, a subset of students deemed “triple low remedial” — with the most severe deficits in all three subjects — has doubled, to 1,000.
It seems likely that the use of online learning in an effort to cheaply disburse academic credit is a maneuver that shifts the benefits of publicly funded education to private sector tech contractors and deprives both society-at-large and students themselves from a rigorous public education. This hardly seems essential to online learning as a teaching device- which perhaps could be implemented with more circumspection and limited aims.