NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Promise of Online Learning and Education Savings Accounts

November 3, 2011

The growth of online learning solutions changes the discussion of choice in education -- the conversation moves from choosing a school to choosing individual services that specifically meet a student's needs.  Combined with Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), these advances in online learning create the foundation for unparalleled customization in a child's education, providing experiences that better challenge students and prepare them for the real world, says Dan Lips, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

The rise of digital learning in recent years has, on its own, changed the course of national dialogue regarding public education.  With an estimated 1.5 million students nationwide participating to some degree in online learning, it's a difficult trend to ignore.  What is truly compelling about this new field of education, though, is the package of benefits that come with more students opting into non-traditional, virtual classrooms.

  • Initial empirical studies suggest that students who use to any degree some form of online learning perform better academically.
  • Furthermore, students benefit from increased flexibility and autonomy, including access to a broader range of courses, the ability to make up missed sessions, and the chance to avoid uncomfortable social situations.
  • Online learning can also improve the education sector for teachers.

In addition to expanded flexibility, online courses reduce unnecessary expenditures and can increase the student-to-teacher ratio (while improving educational offerings).  This will allow schools to be able to offer higher salaries to a smaller workforce of instructors.  In total, this translates into net savings for the government -- as more students opt into virtual learning, education dollars will be saved and the sector will become more efficient.

The expansion of ESAs, in tandem with the rise in online learning, can revolutionize American education.  By providing parents with a state-funded, private savings account to pay for their child's education expenses, state governments can increase customization options for students while simultaneously spurring innovation in an otherwise relatively stagnant field.  By expanding ESA programs like those that exist in Arizona (which will cover 17,000 special-education students in fall 2011), lawmakers can maximize the benefits to be attained from increased online learning and other, non-traditional but nonetheless innovative forms of education.

Source: Dan Lips, "A Custom Education for Every Child: The Promise of Online Learning and Education Savings Accounts," Goldwater Institute, October 25, 2011.


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