Insight into Online Learning in Rural Schools

The traditional K-12 classroom is evolving or should one say expanding? Online learning is entering the K-12 classroom via the Internet. The symbol of the school bell tower could now be emitting wifi signals instead of ringing bell tones. Brown (2012) describes in his article “Rural Districts Bolster Choices with Online Learning’ how this movement towards online learning is affecting the K-12 realm, specifically in rural schools in the Lane County school districts located in Oregon. Unlike online learning in higher education, online learning in K-12 is monitored on cite and highly structured. Students have mentors that help guide their online learning experience. The online learning classes offered are usually ones not taught at the school and are tailored for specific groups of students, which include the gifted, students with high GPAs, and students who need to recover classes for graduation. These students are usually juniors and seniors. In some cases students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes like in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District with 310 students (Brown 2012). Even though online learning is making inroads into K-12 education there is still aspects that can be built on, barriers to get over, and improvement to be made.

It was surprising that the online learning classes were limited to select groups of students. Even in small school districts, like Lowell School District with 280 students, students need to be recommended by a teacher. Brown (2012) states that in the Creswell School District “They established a tiered approach to enrolling students in online courses, with gifted students getting top priority, followed by juniors and seniors who had at least a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) and wanted a course that was not available at their school’ (14). The reasoning behind this is sound, but in a perfect fair world one would hope that a GPA would not be the main deciding factor in limiting or broadening a student’s education. Too much of the time education is crunched down to the numbers and the human element can easily be forgotten. This is where the teacher recommendation helps improve the review process, but it could still be limiting to students who could benefit from online learning. In the Crow-Applegate-Lorane District students with IEPs are allowed to take online learning classes as well as opposed to the students who are gifted and college driven. It is understandable why the GPA is a major factor in deciding whether a student can qualify for an online learning class; the school needs to make sure it is investing its money in the right student. As with many arguments one can see both sides of how openingly available online learning should be for students.

Interestingly in the Creswell School District students’ success in online learning was attributed in part that they had to pay 10% of the online course’s fee. Money can be a motivator, but should students be required to pay for their education when attending a public school? I think for an online learning program to be truly successful there should not be any financial barriers to the students or the school district. Brown (2012) found that in the Crow-Applegate-Lorane School District that “Removing the financial barrier allowed students and staff to try things out and gave them time to develop policies and procedures’ for online learning (16). When money is not the driving force behind education pressure is taken off of teachers and districts. When the financial worry is taken care of teachers can focus on student learning and doing what is best for the students rather than seeing if it is in the budget. This is especially true for online learning courses because materials need to be updated more regularly than school wide curriculums and materials are.

In all the considerations for online learning in the K-12 education system it did not occur to me it might affect teacher employment as Brown (2012) pointed out in his research. In my student centered thinking it never occurred to me that online learning could take jobs away from teachers in the school building. This brought to my attention if online learning is going to be seriously offered in a K-12 setting the teachers employed by the school will also need to be able to design and teach online classes either for the students in their school or students from other schools in the district. In rural schools teachers do double duty as it is. This article makes me appreciate this class even more because me desire to teach in a rural school in Alaska will probably require me to both be able to teach an online learning class or be able to monitor students taking online classes.

The research conducted by Brown (2012) in rural Oregon schools on the use of online learning is interesting, but also demonstrates that there are some barriers to it being a complete success, such a money, teacher job security, and equitable access. Maybe one day there will be an online learning option or track in schools for students to choose, but at least it is becoming more readily available to students. K-12 teachers need to recognize that online learning could have a greater impact on job security and descriptions in the future, especially in the rural school districts.


Brown, D. (2012). Rural districts bolster choices with online learning. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(6), 12-17.

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5 thoughts on “Insight into Online Learning in Rural Schools

  1. Bob

    Well, as a parent, I know that this opportunity was squandered by my son his senior year. I have to admit I was excited to see the curriculum enriched in this way. Alas, his experience was of a poorly designed and taught course in which he did poorly. I think that I would like to head in a different direction away from LMS presentations and instead explore augmented reality. I discovered the work of Chris Dede two summers ago. Two websites describing his work with middle-school students are linked here:
    I really encourage folks to watch the videos linked under that tab. It is the ecoMOBILE video where we encounter online instruction and augmented reality. I’ll wait here, hmm, hmm, hmm, back? To my way of thinking this is incredibly interesting. If I am so thoroughly done with the sage on the stage, with reading scholarly papers, with writing yet another paper for a grade, is it any wonder that these young people with the wooden chairs burning their butts struggle with this kind of instruction? Just out of courtesy for the energy of their youth we need to explore ways to get them out of the classroom and ways that keep the conversation going even as we move out of the classroom with them. I am really uncertain that an LMS can support this kind of learning. Rather we need to make the jump to mobile devices and this jump is really, really intriguing. I can imagine along with the ecological overlay, cultural and historical hot spots that students might encounter, for example an abandoned car body, or a caved in house adjacent to the pond. To my mind this is far more age appropriate then having K-12 student messing about in an LMS while they have a mentor shoulder surfing.

    1. Owen

      Bob, I enjoyed the links to the Harvard project. A neat idea – but still in its infancy. Will this be the future of education in 50 or 100 years? Or will kids spend time with an actual instructor with actual ponds and forests? I agree that students need to get out more. The school LMS would have been hard on me in school.

      I’m not convinced about mobile devices. I’m a pretty devoted learner. When I am interested in something, I might look it up on my phone if that’s all I have convenient. If I want to learn more about it in depth, I’ll use my laptop. If I really want to learn something, I buy books.

      On the subject of kids in school – I have two daughters in their senior year. They’re doing dual enrollment here at UAF – taking college classes. One chose to take Calc online. Turns out it is a lot more work than she thought. Last night she was struggling to type in answers that she knew were right into the online math homework system. It wouldn’t accept her formatting – and she was embarrassed to take advantage of the online synchronous math tutors… Barriers.

      Nice comments, Bob.

      1. Bob

        Owen I do not understand your comment about mobile devices: “I’m not convinced about mobile devices.” I am unsure what there is to be convinced about. The devices in the EcoMOBILE video are cell phones with QUALCOMM technology, ubiquitous. The FreshAir app and editor is free for individual use $19 dollars a month for 30 or fewer users, right now. If you don’t like that app then try Wikitude (Google it it is wicked cool). We really do not have to wait 50 to 100 minutes let alone years, we can do this now. I too depend on my desktop still, particularly when apps let me down (the BlackBoard app and this course are not optimized for example). However, my iPad is taking the place of my phone(I FaceTime/Skype with my daughter in Oregon and my son in Virginia). I have a GPS on my late model iPad but the one on my wife’s phone is better, better then the Garmin single purpose device we own. But the Google Map app was really cool two years ago in Boston I could sit in the hotel and see restaurants within easy walking distance, read their menu’s and reviews about them. I too buy books when I want to learn, but I read them on my iPad through the Kindle app. And you know I’m a really unsophisticated user. Help me out here what is unconvincing?

        Switching gears, but staying with online learning just outside of the lms. My son is a college freshman. His first college essay was assigned. He called the old-guy for help. We FaceTimed, to get the shape of the assignment, he created a Google Doc to draft in and where I commented on his progress. I was unfamiliar with the readings so opened the pdfs in my Kindle App and skimmed them there. I coached him on using the find feature in Adobe to search the documents for key words from his thesis statement so that he did not have to read them in entirety. I e-mailed him links to the college’s Writer’s Center, he scheduled an appointment through their website. Sorry Owen, I am at it again, a lot of this work was done on my iPad and his iPhone, certainly some of it was on his laptop and my desktop. I guess I was really impressed by that first video that talked about learning networks. I really think we have to get away from the constraints of school, formal education, certification and learning management systems to start to explore online pedagogy to start to reclaim curiosity and discovery.

  2. Owen


    Great article and this raises many interesting points. I’m very interested in this issue, particularly within Alaska. You nailed one interesting aspect – that of teacher jobs. I surveyed school superintendents across Alaska this summer and I discovered that school districts are finding their own way in this wilderness and it is leading to a wide variety of solutions. APEX is one large provider in the state (company founded by Steve Balmer). BYU – of course, AKLN, and others.

    Already there are thousands of credits being delivered to Alaska students by teachers not in Alaska. I can see at some point this may get some attention and following legislation? Very interesting.

    And the larger and more pressing question of what to do about those kids who aren’t prepared for online learning? Are we just increasing barriers while decreasing costs?

    Many interesting issues.

  3. kgebauer Post author

    You both raise very interesting points. I wanted to focus on online learning in Alaska, but couldn’t find an article in time, but I liked this one because i thought it hit on some of the same things that are most likely taking place in Alaska presently. Online learning in the K-12 education system has a ways to go. Schools are attempting to keep online learning within the walls of the school and I am not convinced that this is effective. Can the online learning environment be effectively conducted in the classroom setting with a hovering teacher? I think the jury is still out. Students need guidance, but as Bob points out online learning needs the flexibility of using multiple devices, which students and schools don’t always have. As college students we have the freedom to take online classes from anywhere and anytime, K-12 students do not have this freedom yet when online learning is offered in the school setting.

    Owen, I think we could possibly be creating more barriers to learning because I think the system is still too inflexible at the moment for online learning in K-12 in the school setting at least. It provides more opportunities, but as you point out the students are not prepared for the online learning experience. I am not sure what the solution is, but the one teacher in the room for x-minutes per school day with the students all taking different online classes is not the best solution, it is a band-aid. I think the solution needs more of a developing a sense of community approach both online and in the physical classroom the students are sitting in. The problem is that online learning does not end with the bell it takes place outside school hours. This is a barrier because not all the teachers guiding the students through the online learning process are willing to be available outside school hours to offer help. My research has made me curious about virtual schools where everything is online. I wonder if these virtual schools offer a more effective online learning experience. Are the students prepared for such a school? How do they help students be successful? Does online learning in K-12 need to be done in isolation like this?


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