A Look Inside Online Educational Settings in High School: Promise and Pitfalls for Improving Educational Opportunities and Outcomes

Heinrich, Carolyn J. et al. | American Educational Research Journal, Forthcoming

This study relies on a sophisticated mixed-methods (quantitative and qualitative) research design to provide a close look at online learning in an unnamed urban school district. The authors’ prime concern arising from their study is the fact that online learning appears to be a mechanism for within-school ability-based segregation. Economic (dis)advantage and presence of special needs appear to underpin this segregation.

The authors find that taking a course online has negative impacts in reading and math. Further, they emphasize that the learning penalty is experienced more strongly by students who are academically unprepared and less motivated. Students in grades 9 and 10 were sufficiently unprepared for online learning that the district discouraged them from taking online courses and disabled the online courses for students in those grades.

The authors suggest that, among other strategies, online learning can be improved by lowering student-teacher ratios and recognizing that students in grades 9 and 10 are not prepared for online learning.