Did online learning mostly miss the mark?

Online learning has untapped potential for students across the nation, and while the COVID-19 pandemic forced classrooms online in early 2020, that doesn’t mean learning became more innovative and personalized. To what extent have educators used the pandemic as an opportunity to realize online learning’s benefits?

A new brief from the Clayton Christensen Institute examines that very question, pulling from surveys and discussions with more than 1,000 teachers to paint a picture of programs, technologies, and instructional practices educators are leaning on as they work through the effects of COVID-19. The intent is to learn how educators use online learning, but also whether online learning leads to the benefits the Institute has documented in its blended learning research.

The traditional–and what many (or most) would argue outdated–education system relies on uniformity, notes the report’s author, Thomas Arnett, a senior research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute. And this means the majority of students won’t totally fit.


“The foundational tenets of conventional instruction hinge on uniformity and compliance. Schools and classrooms, by and large, need students to conform to a common set of requirements in order for cohort-based learning to work. Unfortunately, nearly all students struggle to one degree or another to fit conventional instruction’s norms,” Arnett writes.

And here is where online learning’s vast potential enters the scene. It can, without argument, be completely transformational for teachers and students.

The research from CCI explores various benefits of online learning to see how fully they were achieved during COVID-19.

Potential benefit: Flexible timing

Students can learn new concepts and access online lessons when they have an internet connection or after traditional school hours, instead of learning new concepts as a teacher presents them. Lessons are accessible for review on-demand and can be paused or restarted as needed.

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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