Web-based Instruction Research Paper Starter

Web-based Instruction

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This article discusses K–12 Web-based instruction, which is also known as online learning. Web-based instruction can be synonymous with computer-based blended learning, in which using the Internet within a traditional classroom setting is an adjunct to daily classroom work. Web-based instruction can also mean distance education or the use of virtual charter schools, both of which use the Internet as nearly the entire means of communication between teacher and student. Some educators believe that this latter version of Web-based instruction holds great promise in the face of shrinking education budgets, teacher shortages, and wired learners, while other educators argue that Web-based instruction detracts from the face-to-face interaction between teacher and student that gives children the best chance of vocational success later in life.

Keywords Blended learning; Computer-based learning; Distance education; Internet; Online learning; Virtual charter schools; Web-based instruction; Worldwide web


As Rohland-Heinrich & Jensen (2007) note, Web-based instruction is the latest manifestation of a continuous stream of innovation within the American educational system:

"This movement toward virtual teaching and learning follows on the coat tails of the charter and alternative school movements intended to expand educational delivery systems that maximize individualized instruction rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all school model" (p. 8).

In their survey of the topic, Picciano & Seaman (2007) note that, true to its pedagogical pedigree, "online learning is not one thing but comes in various shapes and sizes" (p. 20).

This multidimensional aspect of Web-based instruction tends to hamper proper classification and analysis of the topic. In the literature, the phrase "Web-based instruction" has come to mean several different things, and thus it becomes essential to define one's terms at the outset. What precisely is online learning? To that end, it is useful to begin with the categories created by Allen and Seaman (2006, p. 1):

Online—A course where most or all of the content is delivered online. Defined as at least 80 percent of seat time being replaced by online activity.

Blended/Hybrid—A course that blends online and face-to-face delivery. Substantial proportion (30 to 79 percent) of the content is delivered online.

Web-Facilitated—Course that uses web-based technology (1 to 29 percent of the content is delivered online) to facilitate what is essentially a face-to-face course…

As these categories indicate, Web-based instruction can take several different forms, with only one form involving a complete lack of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students. In many cases, Web-based instruction involves what Allen and Seamen refer to as a "blended/hybrid" or "Web-facilitated" model.

Colleges and universities, already early adopters of computer and Internet technology, were the pioneers in Web-based instruction. The first recognizable computer-assisted learning tool was PLATO III, the brainchild of University of Illinois physicist Chalmers Sherwin and his lab assistant, Donald Bitzer. PLATO I was launched as a pilot project in 1960, and by the time PLATO III, the third-generation of the technology, was launched in 1969, the system allowed instructors to program their own lesson modules. PLATO III was accessed by students at the university through custom-built terminals. Similar examples were found across other colleges and universities in the United States in the 1970s.

By the 1980s, computer technology had advanced to the point where more and more Americans were buying personal computers. Popular models such as the Apple IIe, the Apple Macintosh Plus/SE, and various IBM PC clones began to transform how students and their parents lived and worked. Educational software began to proliferate as increasingly powerful computers found their way into K–12 classrooms. Students put aside typewriters and began to use the new machines for composing school papers.

Still, despite the advances made by computer technology in the 1980s, there were inherent limitations. Client-server computing, which made it possible for students sitting at terminals in different classrooms to go through the same lessons, was only able to network students at that particular school. The content of the computer-based lessons was also limited; it was either created by the teacher or purchased in the form of floppy disks or, later, CD-ROMs.

In the early 1990s, a new phenomenon known as the Internet began to transform e-learning, making it web-based rather than simply computer-based. Using the Internet, students were able to tap into a global community—a worldwide web—of teachers and learners to expand their educational horizons. And teachers began to join together across the globe to share resources and advice. While educational software didn't disappear entirely, it was supplemented by a bounty of free, quality content available to anyone with an Internet connection.

The reach of the World Wide Web quickly expanded—some would say exploded—across the educational landscape: while only 35 percent of public schools were wired in 1994, the number climbed to 93 percent by 2009 (Wells & Lewis, 2006, p. 4; US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Moreover, the ratio of students to Internet-enabled computers dropped from 12.1 to 1 in 1998 to 3 to 1 in 2008 (Warschauer, 2010), meaning that more and more students had easier access to the Internet at school (Wells & Lewis, 2006, p. 6). Fast broadband connections provided quicker access to web-based information: only 3 percent of wired schools were using slower dial-up technology by 2005 (Wells & Lewis, 2006, p. 6). Private schools and home-schooling families were also taking advantage of the Internet beginning in the 1990s. By 1998, 67 percent of all private schools had Internet access, and among Catholic schools, the number rose to 83 percent (NCES, 2000, p. 2).

According to overall numbers published by the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of American homes with Internet access also kept pace. Access increased from 26.2 percent of homes in 1998 to 71.7 percent in 2011 , but in homes with children aged 3–17, the 2011 number was 60.2 percent (US Census Bureau, 2013). These numbers are still growing, and now a number of major US cities, including Boston and San Francisco, are bringing free or low-cost wireless Internet access to all their residents.

These trends form a backdrop for the advent of Web-based instruction in the later 1990s. As fast, reasonably priced, and accessible Internet access became available to more and more K–12 students, many in the education community began to conceive of ways to use it to improve education in America. Web-based education was one of the ideas discussed during the national conversation about education reform and outcome-based education culminating in the passage of the historic No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Perhaps not surprisingly, colleges and universities have taken the lead in Web-based education. In 2006, over 3.5 million people were participating in online education in one form or another; by 2009, 96 percent of traditional “brick and mortar” universities were offering online coursework with approximately 45 percent of college students participating in at least one online course. By 2014, it is estimated that over 80 percent of all post-secondary students will be taking at least one of their classes online (Rasmussen College, 2011).

An article published in Education Digest in 2007 stated that technology usage in schools had risen almost 300 percent since the 1970s (Gosmire & Grady, 2007). In 2006, Learning Point Associates estimated that more than 1 million students participated in some form of online learning, and many high schools had added online coursework as a graduation requirement (Rohland-Heinrich & Jensen, 2007). The US Department of Education reported that in 2006 approximately 328,000 public school students in the United States were enrolled in online or video-based education courses (Gosmire & Grady, 2007).

As for K–12 students, the statistics for the 2005-2006 school year are telling:

• There are an estimated 700,000 public school students enrolled in online courses.

• Nearly two-thirds (or 63 percent) of schools had at least one student taking a blended course or one conducted entirely online.

• More than 60 percent of the school districts that have e-learning students expect web-based course enrollments to increase 19 percent over the next two years. They expect blended enrollments to rise by 23 percent. (Picciano & Seaman, 2007, pp. 7–9)

These numbers do not include home-schooled students, an often-overlooked segment of young learners. A detailed survey published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2006 reported that 19 percent of home-schoolers (amounting to 212,000 students) used the "Internet, email or web" to take part in distance learning as of 2003 (NCES, 2006, fig. 3, table 6).

A footnote in the U.S. Department of Education statistical report comments on an important trend in Web-based instruction across the United States: students can take delivery of content in different, but mutually-reinforcing ways. As noted above, Allen and Seaman's research (2006, p. 1), reveals that Web-based learning can take three main forms: online, blended/hybrid, and web-facilitated. The type of Web-based instruction that is used is often determined by factors such as the classroom instructor's familiarity Web-based tools and the student's level of comfort with self-paced learning. Another factor is the level of concern school administrators have regarding quality control. Picciano and Seaman note that "many school districts continue to have concerns about quality, student readiness, and staff development related to online education. It may be that blended instruction is a better option for districts with these concerns" (Picciano & Seaman, 2007, p. 19). As of 2010, more than 70 percent of the...

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