Many families view K-12 online schools with skepticism.
They question how a computer could possibly replace discussion and debate in a classroom. Or the passion conveyed by a teacher. Or the experience of working in teams.
They doubt their children would learn as much online. The research to date, however, suggests it's possible. The problem is that research is sparse.
Supporters of online education like to tout a 2009 analysis by the U.S. Department of Education that looked at 12 years' worth of online research from 1996 to 2008. The report concluded that, on average, students learning online overall "performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."
The better results showed up in one type of online education: blended learning, in which online is combined with face-to-face instruction in a particular class. Students in blended, or hybrid, learning performed better than those in online-only or face-to-face classes. Online-only appeared to be as effective as traditional instruction, but not more so, researchers said.
The report added a caveat to the blended classes. Researchers said factors such as more learning time in the blended settings than in face-to-face classrooms could have produced the better results.