Online Learning in Libraries Targets High-School Dropouts

Published February 10, 2014

The concept of the traditional library continues to evolve from rooms teeming with musty books, dusty shelves, and spinster librarians shushing patrons. The latest evolution involves offering online alternatives to high-school dropouts, allowing them the opportunity to earn a diploma rather than a General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

On January 9, Cengage launched its Career Online High School program for public libraries. COHS blends online learning with academic coaches who assist students with career advice and curricula guidance.

Los Angeles Public Library is hosting the COHS pilot, and hopes to launch it in March 2014 before the program goes nationwide.

“We’re excited to be the first library in the United States to offer Career Online High School,” said Peter Persic, an L.A. Public Library spokesman. “The program will allow us to award an actual high school diploma as opposed to a GED. We’ve found that both are important, but one significant difference is some colleges only accept a diploma. Students who participate will also receive a career certificate in a variety of different areas, including child care, education, and homeland security.”

The pilot is just the latest example of institutions moving beyond the walls of traditional classrooms to offer education through a variety of providers in a variety of forms.

Dropouts Earning Diplomas
Cengage’s high school courses are vetted by state-board certified instructors and accredited by AdvanceED. Previously earned high school credits can be transferred toward COHS diplomas, allowing some students to graduate in only four to six months.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, dropouts are defined as “16- through 24-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential (either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate).” NCES reports high-school dropouts in 2011 composed 7 percent of the age group, down from 12 percent in 1990.

According to a Cengage press release, however, 1 million high-school students drop out every year, an average of 7,000 students each day. Citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Cengage states 25 percent of Los Angeles residents have failed to earn a high-school diploma.

“Career Online is both face-to-face time and online learning at the students’ pace, which is the most convenient for them,” said Persic. “Additionally, students can learn together by choosing to gather together to discuss coursework in the library.”

Praised as ‘Disrupive Innovation’
The pilot program is open to all L.A. city residents, according to Perry. He said it will be initially funded by the Los Angeles Library Foundation but he’s unsure where future funding will come from once COHS is up and running.

“We anticipate that 50 percent of all high school courses will be online in some form or fashion by 2020,” said Julia Freeland, an education research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a research institute located in San Mateo, Calif. “Targeting dropouts in a space open to the public but not traditionally associated with education is the type of disruptive innovation that strikes our interest.”

COHS piqued her interest because it represents a new paradigm for learning, she said.

Freeland equates online learning with the advent of the transistor radio in the 1960s, when the new device became a vital information and entertainment source by providing an affordable and portable alternative to the bulky vacuum-tube radios that preceded them.

“The retail business model for the old, floor-model vacuum-tube radios was to sell people radios that would need replacement tubes when they the old ones burned out,” she said.

Similarly, she says traditional evening classes held at schools and community centers are like the video manufacturer Sony, and Career Online High School is more like the retail innovator Target, which she says is aligned more closely with fulfilling the needs of a diverse group of students eager to complete their high-school education.


Learn more:
Julia Freeland, “Libraries and Diplomas—and the Players in Between,” Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Jan. 15, 2014:

“Gale Partners With Career Online High School to Deliver Accredited High-School Diploma Program Through Public Libraries Nationwide,” Gale/Cengage press release, Jan. 9, 2014:

Image by Emilio Labrador.