Policy Documents

A Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning

Rosina Smith, Tom Clark, and Robert Blomeyer –
November 25, 2005

Online learning is an emerging but rapidly growing phenomenon in K–12 education. Although practitioners believe that online education is effective in reaching and serving a wide range of students, little empirical research has been performed to determine its effectiveness in elementary and secondary settings. Questions remain about the educational needs best addressed through online learning as well as its impact on school improvement and learner outcomes. Programs of research informed by early lessons learned are needed to inform the future development of online learning.

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 2004, NCREL funded eight research studies on K–12 online learning. The studies were completed by July 2005. This synthesis is based on final research reports submitted to NCREL by the research teams. Copies of those reports are available on request from the research teams. (Contact information on the researchers appears in the Appendix.) Several of the studies are being prepared for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

Section 1 of this document provides an overview of the field of online learning to establish the context within which the eight research studies were defined and conducted. Section 2 presents brief summaries of each of the eight studies, with an analysis of common themes, challenges, and issues in online learning. Section 3 presents specific implications for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners based on the eight studies.