K-12 Education: Moving from the Schoolhouse to the Superhighway

Guest Blogger PostOn March 9, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton announced via Twitter that Memphis was filing an application for Google Fiber for Communities.  This initial tweet was followed with a post on the mayor’s blog From the Mayor’s Desk. In his blog post, Wharton asks you to “Imagine a promising inner-city 7th-grader collaborating with classmates around the world while watching a live university lecture.” Wharton is asking his readers to imagine e-learning in our K-12 classrooms. This call to imagine e-learning in Memphis classrooms comes less than a week after the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology released a draft of their National Educational Technology Plan 2010 titled “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology“. This plan calls for readers to embrace the use of e-learning as the catalyst that will propel our schools through the 21st century. With this political focus being put on e-learning, let’s explore how this will look in the K-12 classroom. First we will define e-learning, next we will look at a few of its benefits, then we will note a few barriers to its implementation.

E-learning Defined

From the local to the national level, there is a focus on e-learning in K-12 education. E-learning is the promotion of learning through the delivery of instruction via a computer or the Web (Clark & Mayer, 2003; Mayer, 2003). But what does this really look like? How will this change K-12 education? Perhaps it is easier to start by noting what it doesn’t look like. Embracing e-learning does not equate to a rejection of the formal classroom setting. The computer is only one mode of delivery for instruction. It is not necessarily the best mode for a given situation. While in some circumstances it is, there are times when teachers, peers, or other media are more appropriate for delivery of instruction (Alessi & Trollip, 2001). It also should be noted that e-learning is not about the technology, it is about the learning. Kleiman (2000) addresses myths associated with using technology in the K-12 classroom. He states in his article, “the value of a computer, like that of any tool, depends upon what purposes it serves and how well it is used” (p. 3).

Benefits of E-learning

If the technology is just a tool and learning can take place without the technology, then why such a push for e-learning in the schools? The Office of Educational Technology (2010) posits, “Just as technology is at the core of virtually every aspect of our daily lives and work, we must leverage it to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences, content, and resources and assessments that measure student achievement in more complete, authentic, and meaningful ways” (p. v). So this is the picture we should envision when imagining e-learning in our classrooms: opportunities that are “limitless, borderless, and instantaneous (p. vi).

Creating these opportunities can happen in several ways. Embracing e-learning can include the adoption of virtual schools or virtual courses, ubiquitous computing, and using e-learning in the classroom to support the curriculum. Although some virtual schools have had great success (Florida Virtual School, Virtual High School); incorporating e-learning does not mean that brick-and-mortar schools will go away. E-learning can offer many benefits to students who attend traditional schools. These benefits include taking a course online that the school cannot afford to offer, catching up on lost credits, and taking classes with students from across the city or world. E-learning can also be used in the classroom to enhance the curriculum. This may include a virtual field trip or the modeling of a science experiment.

Barriers to E-learning

It is obvious that e-learning has benefits. There is often funding available through organizations and grants to implement e-learning in schools. So why aren’t more schools incorporating e-learning? Kleiman (2004) suggests two reasons: teachers are unprepared and technology support staff are lacking. Toby Philpott has created a Mindomo concept map outlining the barriers he sees to implementing e-learning. These barriers include motivation, literacy, cultural differences, accessibility, economics, and freedom of information. So, before we can see our imagined 7th grader collaborating with classmates around the world, we have some work to do.

With the push for e-learning and a broadband infrastructure coming from the US Department of Education and the prospect of Google Fiber coming to Memphis, I would like to start a conversation on how we see e-learning changing K-12 education. What do you believe the impact will be? What are obstacles to its successful implementation?


Alessi, S.M. & Trollip, S.R. (2001). Multimedia for learning: Methods and development (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2003). E-learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kleiman, G. M. (2000). Myths and realities about technology in K-12 schools. In the Harvard Education Letter report, The digital classroom: How technology is changing the way we teach and learn. Retrieved March 18, 2010 from http://www.edtechleaders.org/documents/myths.pdf

Kleiman, G.M. (2004). Myths and realities about technology in k-12 schools: Five years later. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 4(2), 248-253.

Mayer, R. E. (2003). Elements of a science of e-learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 29(3), 297-313.

Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.  Available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/netp.pdf

Guest Blogger: Carmen Weaver is the project manager for the TLINC grant at the University of Memphis. She also teaches technology integration to undergraduate education majors at the University. Carmen has a background in Computer Information Systems as well as Secondary Education. She is a doctoral student in Instructional Design and Technology.