Background: Accountability in Online Learning

Online learning has taken the educational world by storm as of late. In an ever-demanding world of rigid schedules, fast-paced competition, and  ubiquitous technology, online courses have been rapidly becoming a major game changer in the face of education. With the cost of college rising so rampantly, online courses have become an attractive, low-cost alternative. According to the Babson Survey Research Group , only 32.5% of responding colleges offered full degree programs online in 2002; however, that percentage nearly doubled by 2012 with 62.4% of responding colleges offering full degree programs online (Sheehy, 2013). During the 2011 school year, more than 6.7 million students, approximately “32% of total higher ed enrollment”, enrolled in at least one course online during the fall semester of 2011 (Sheehy, 2013). In certain states such as Michigan, New Mexico, Alabama, and Virgina, students are required to take an online course or virtual learning experience in order to graduate from high school because those states feel that it is essential to prepare students for the future of education (Sheehy, 2012). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2008) the number of students in k-12 public education systems that were enrolled in online courses rose by 65% between the years 2002-2005. A survey conducted by Picciano and Seaman (2009) approximated over one million k-12 students enrolled in virtual classrooms in the 2007-2008 school year. “Researchers at Harvard University predict that by 2019 almost half of all high school students will take their courses online (Toch, 2010).” It is clear that online education is growing and that it is here to stay.

Most Americans are familiar with virtual classrooms at the university or college level, and online courses has been viewed as a means to address several common problems in education, such as overcrowded school systems, a lack of courses geared towards “remedial or accelerated students,” a scarcity of qualified teachers in local areas, and the difficulty in accommodating learners who require education at a different pace or in a different environment (Cavanaugh & Clark, 2007). Unsurprisingly, virtual educational programs for K-12 students have been developing at meteoric rates domestically and abroad since the 1990s. In less developed countries and regions of the world, K-12 online courses are seen as a means of advancing one’s economic and social standings (Cavanaugh, Barbour, & Clark, 2009). Although online courses have shown to have many benefits, such as higher levels of motivation, expansion of educational access, increased opportunities for high-quality education, improvement of student results and abilities, efficient administration, and diversity of courses, there is an overwhelming number of educators, students, and employers who view that virtual classrooms are not nearly as effective as a traditional classroom and with good reason (Cavanaugh, Barbour & Clark, 2009). According to multiple studies conducted over the last ten years, “only students who were typically successful in online learning environments were those who had independent orientations towards learning, who were highly motivated by intrinsic sources, and who had strong time management, literacy, and technology skills (Cavanaugh, 2007).

Considering that online courses are not only here to stay, but may even become more popular than traditional courses, it is essential for educators to understand that the pedagogogical techniques applied in the physical classroom do not necessarily apply to the virtual classroom, and it is the purpose of this blog to detail suggestions that would improve the numerous issues surrounding accountability in online education.

Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and Practice in K-12 Online Learning: A Review of Open Access Literature. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from

Cavanaugh, C. & Clark, T. (2007). The landscape of K-12 online learning. In Cavanaugh, C. & Blomeyer, B. (Eds.), What works in K-12 online learning. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Picciano, A. G., and J. Seaman. 2009. K–12 online learning: A survey of U.S. school district administrators. Boston: Sloan Consortium. 12_06.asp (accessed March 5, 2009).

Sheehy, K. (2012, October). States, districts require online ed for high school graduation. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Sheehy, K. (2013, January 8). Online Course Enrollment Climbs for 10th Straight Year. Retrieved April 07, 2016, from

Toch, T. 2010. In an era of online learning, schools still matter. Phi Delta Kappan 91 (7): 72–73

Zandberg, I., and L. Lewis. 2008. Technology-based distance education courses for public elementary and secondary school students: 2002-03 and 2004-05. (NCES 2008-08). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

My colleague, Khaynen Yocca discusses the issue on his blog at


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