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Selected Resources about Learning Online

"Without access to online learning and virtual schools, many students displaced by Katrina and Rita will fall further behind. vSKOOL is helping get them back into learning in record time."

Susan Patrick, President and CEO
North American Council for Online Learning

For those who may be unfamiliar with K-12 student use of technology for learning – and with the specific issues surrounding online learning – here is a broad assortment of prominent research studies, policy reports, websites, and articles on the topic published since 2001.

Browse the resource listing by date of publication, or click here to search the vSKOOL site.

Know of other resources that should be listed, email us at


Changing Course: New Thinking About High School Reform. (Cable in the Classroom, 2010). The Spring 2010 issue of Threshold: Exploring the Future of Education features articles on high school reform, produced in partnership with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Visionary authors Milt Goldberg, Burck Smith, and Julie Young explore how high schools could use time differently, improve productivity, and adapt learning spaces.

Going for Distance. (Scholastic Administrator, 2010). In just a few years, the idea of virtual education has grown from fringe experimentation to a service that provides instruction for approximately 300,000 students a year. According to Eduventures, virtual programs will grow at an annual rate of 30 to 40 percent for at least the next three years. Just how virtual education fits or doesn’t into a district’s overall structure varies from district to district. This article details three widely varying approaches to deploying virtual education in K-12 schools.

Our Voices, Our Future: Student and Teacher Views on Math, Science, Technology & Education. (Project Tomorrow-NetDay, 2010). In the fall of 2009, 185,000 K-12 students and 15,000 teachers shared their views and ideas about technology, science, and innovation. This was the first ever combined survey of both students and teachers and the results illustrate a nation of innovative students, the trend-setters in technology use and how they see their education. With regard to online learning, the study found that a clear majority of students report positive experiences with online courses, including that they are "a good opportunity to take classes not offered at your school," "a good option for taking classes outside of school and school hours," and "a good option for students who want a different experience than regular high school."


Beyond the Textbook: Learning in a Digital World. (Cable in the Classroom, 2009). The Fall 2009 issue of Threshold: Exploring the Future of Education features articles on learning in a digital world, produced in partnership with the Consortium for School Networking.

Digital Bridges: K-12 Online Instruction for Teaching and Learning. (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 2009). This Web site was developed and maintained by the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium led by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL). It provides information and resources for educators, parents and students about using computers and the internet to provide new opportunities and improving instruction for students.

Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2002-03. (US Department of Education, 2009). This public school district survey is the first national survey to explore distance education courses for public elementary and secondary school students.

Exploring E-Learning Reforms for Michigan: The New Education (R)evolution. (Wayne State University, 2009). Written by the former State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Michigan, this report identifies and analyzes various online instructional solutions that can be used to address chronic teaching and learning challenges prevalent in urban K-12 education settings.

Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2009). A national Kaiser Family Foundation survey found children and teens are spending an increasing amount of time using “new media” like computers, the Internet and video games, without cutting back on the time they spend with “old” media like TV, print and music. Instead, because of the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time (for example, going online while watching TV), they’re managing to pack increasing amounts of media content into the same amount of time each day.

Going Digital. (Cable in the Classroom, 2009). From the September 2009 edition of Access Learning, this article offers advice to teachers on what they need to know about learning with digital content. (George Lucas Educational Foundation, 2009). From the April 2009 edition of Edutopia comes this article on online learning. All over the country, secondary school students are going online for classes. Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student – or a teacher?

High School on the Web. (National School Boards Association, 2009). Surrounded by computers and portable video games, students born between 1982 and 2000 spend more time surfing the Web, building websites, communicating through instant messaging, and writing blogs than they do watching television. As school board members and administrators, the challenge is how to reach this generation. Online education, which harnesses the power of technology while capitalizing on the students’ interest in it, is helping us transform our education system by delivering this valuable curriculum over the Internet. Through online courses and virtual schools that serve both students and teachers, we can shift our focus from the three R’s to an education system that builds skills in the three C’s: content, collaboration, and community.

Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2003. (US Department of Education, 2009). This report presents 10 years of data from 1994 to 2003 on internet access in U.S. public schools by school characteristics.

The Internet at School. (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2009). The internet is an important element in the overall educational experience of many teenagers. Schools are a common location where online teens access the web, although very few online teenagers rely exclusively on their school for that web access. Further, there is widespread agreement among teens and their parents that the internet can be a useful tool for school.

Prisoners of Time. (The Education Commission of the States, 2009). This update of the 1994 report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning focuses on how we can and must consider changing the structure of the school day and year. From the new introduction: "Students’ lives have changed. They live in a digital world. They use the internet, cell phones and other digital devices to access information and to accelerate communication. For them, time is a resource, not a barrier. We call not only for more learning time, but for all time to be used in new and better ways."

Rates of Computer and Internet Use by Children in Nursery School and Students in Kindergarten Through Twelfth Grade: 2003. (US Department of Education, 2009). This issue brief describes the percentage of students in grades 12 or below who used computers or the internet in 2003. The brief highlights the fact that computer and Internet use is commonplace and begins early. Even before kindergarten, a majority of children in nursery school use computers and, and 23 percent use the internet.

Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning (Learning Point Associates, 2009). This synthesis summarizes the latest in a series of research efforts sponsored by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) to answer questions about online learning and promote the growth of effective programs and practices. In late 2008, NCREL funded eight research studies on K–12 online learning. The studies were completed by July 2009. This synthesis is based on final research reports submitted to NCREL by the research teams.

Tech-Savvy Students Stuck In Text-Dominated Schools (Education Evolving, 2009). As part of a larger effort to integrate student opinions with education policymaking, this report summarizes available literature reporting student attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors when it comes to using digital technology, particularly for learning. It includes students’ ideas for how adult education policy and school designers could better meet their needs.

Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation. (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2009). Today’s American teens live in a world enveloped by communications technologies; the internet and cell phones have become a central force that fuels the rhythm of daily life. The number of teenagers using the internet has grown 24% in the past four years and 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online. Compared to four years ago, teens’ use of the internet has intensified and broadened as they log on more often and do more things when they are online.

Teen Content Creators and Consumers (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2009). American teenagers today are utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet as they create and share their own media creations. Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered "content creators". They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.

Visions 2020.2: Student Views on Transforming Education and Training Through Advanced Technologies. (US Department of Commerce/US Department of Education/NetDay, 2009). The U.S. Departments of Commerce and Education and NetDay formed a partnership aimed at analyzing K-12 student views about technology for learning. These views are analyzed in this report.


Cyber and Home School Charter Schools: How States are Defining New Forms of Public Schooling. (National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, 2008.) Cyber and home school charters are quietly gaining momentum across the country and are beginning to challenge traditional definitions of public schooling by delivering instruction absent the traditional “brick and mortar” school house. This paper seeks to illuminate how these alternative charter school models are developing within the wider public school community and the charter school movement.

Cyber Schools. (Education Commission of the States, 2008.) This edition of ECS StateNotes is focused on cyber schools. Also called virtual schools, online schools or Internet schools, cyber schools deliver the majority of their instruction to students through a Web site posted on the Internet instead of in a school building.

The Effects of Distance Education on K-12 Student Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis. (Learning Point Associates, 2008). While elementary and secondary students have learned through the use of electronic distance learning systems since the 1930s, the development of online distance learning schools is a relatively new phenomenon. This meta-analysis is a statistical review of 116 effect sizes from 14 web-delivered K–12 distance education programs studied between 1999 and 2008. Analyses reveal that distance education can have the same effect on measures of student academic achievement when compared to traditional instruction. In sum, the study found no significant difference in performance between students who participated in online programs and those who were taught in face-to-face classrooms.

e-Learning Frameworks for NCLB. (US Department of Education, 2008). Educators must embrace e-learning solutions if they want to ensure that every student has a quality educational experience. This paper describes e-learning solutions to common problems facing educators, outline current barriers to the widespread use of e-learning, and describe characteristics of an “ideal” state environment for e-learning.

How Can Virtual Schools Be a Vibrant Part of Meeting the Choice Provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act? (US Department of Education, 2008). This paper focuses specifically on virtual schools as an approach to providing options under NCLB. Districts that truly suffer from lack of capacity and supply may find that virtual schools are a viable solution for meeting the choice requirements of NCLB.

Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: A Snapshot of State-Level Policy and Practice (Colorado Department of Education, Illinois Virtual High School, Learning Point Associates, and Wisconsin Virtual School, 2008). The rapid expansion of K–12 online learning threatens to outpace the development of appropriate state-level policies that serve to fulfill the promise. This study ascertains what states are doing to address the need for policy guidance. In particular, the report provides information on specific topics of K–12 online learning policy and practice, as well as analysis and discussion of those issues.

Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, the Law, and Today’s Students are Revolutionizing Expectations. (US Department of Education, 2008). The third national education technology plan released by the federal government recommends that every student should have access to e-learning and that every teacher participate in e-learning training. Related success stories can be found at:

Youth Technology Support Programs: Meeting the Challenge of Technology Support in Schools. (Youth Technology Support Collaborative, 2008). In response to the challenges of providing high-quality technology support, enterprising districts are employing a complete system of connected solutions, including the use of online support, deploying community volunteers, outsourcing some of the more technical services and—in increasing numbers of districts—solutions that rely on enlisting the aid of students.


The California Virtual School Report: A National Survey of Virtual Education Practice and Policy with Recommendations for the State of California. (University of California College Preparatory Initiative, 2003.) This study examines virtual high schools across the country, the state of virtual learning in California, and the state of the technologies supporting virtual education in order to explore the range of possibilities for a Statewide online learning program.

Essential Principles of High-Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for Evaluating K-12 Online Teachers. (SREB, 2003.) This publication looks at the unique skills required for online teachers and concludes with a checklist that can be used to help determine whether such teachers meet standards in several areas.

Guide to Online High School Courses. (NEA, 2003.) This document aims to provide guidelines for online learning that provide practical guidance to help students, parents, educators, and policymakers create, use, and assess online courses.

Net Choices, Net Gains: Supplementing the High School Curriculum with Online Courses. (WestEd, 2003). Drawing from a review of the research literature, interviews with national experts in online learning, and the authors’ evaluation of a statewide online learning program in California, this Knowledge Brief identifies key issues that schools should investigate when considering the online learning option. Net Choice, Net Gains makes recommendations related to online curriculum and assessment, effective student support, technology, professional development for online instructors and student-support staff, policy and administration, funding, and outreach.

A Retrospective on 20 Years of Education Technology Policy. (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Commissioned to support the development of the National Education Technology Plan, this paper provides an overview and analysis of key education technology policy reports issued since the landmark 1983 release of A Nation at Risk. The paper summarizes recommendations made in these reports and comments on the shifting rationales for and expectations of educational technology investments that have shaped those recommendations over time.


The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and Their Schools. (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2002). Using the internet is the norm for today’s youth and internet-savvy students rely on the Internet to help them do their schoolwork. Yet, many schools and teachers have not yet recognized—much less responded to—the new ways students communicate and access information over the internet. Students report that there is a substantial disconnect between how they use the internet for school and how they use the Internet during the school day and under teacher direction.

Learning Without Walls: Virtual Schools and the Online Revolution. (American School Board Journal, 2002.) This ASBJ Special Report focuses on a range of issues related to virtual schools and e-learning.

Preserving Principles of Public Education in an Online World. (Center for Education Policy, 2002.) This report examines virtual schools in the context of CEP's principles of public education, and recommends policies that state leaders should adopt in creating virtual schools.

Technology Counts 2002: E-Defining Education. This Education Week special report provides a thorough overview of the current state of virtual education, including a chart and map of state e-learning initiatives and restrictions.

Virtual Schools and E-Learning in K-12 Environments. (NCREL, 2002). This edition of NCREL Policy Issues aims to summarize the critical e-learning issues related to education policy; provide an overview of what works, based on recent research and program assessment; and, offer policy recommendations to support decision makers and policy leaders charged with the investigation and deployment of online courses and Internet-based learning environments in K-12 schools and school districts.

Virtual Schools Forum Report. (Center for Digital Education and the US Department of Education, 2002). This report summarizes the proceedings from a forum to begin shaping a national virtual school agenda by bringing together key stakeholders to identify specific challenges, policy issues and regulatory obstacles facing virtual education.


Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace: Taking the Lead on e-Learning Policy. (National Association of State Boards of Education, 2001.) This report examines the needs for and barriers to effective, coordinated virtual education.

Virtual Schools: Trends and Issues. (WestEd, 2001). This report provides a summary and analysis of virtual school activities and trends across the United States. The virtual school movement can be considered the "next wave" in technology based K-12 education, joining proven distance learning delivery methods. Virtual schools are defined for the purposes of this study as educational organizations that offer K-12 courses through Internet- or Web-based methods.