Online education has moved from the margins to the center of graduate education. Even at elite colleges and universities, there seems to be a widespread acceptance of the quality of online learning for masters degrees.
The same can't be said for undergraduate education.
While there are examples of top schools offering summer classes online, or providing one-off courses, so far undergraduate education has not followed the same path as graduate education. Experiments such as Minerva are exceptions that prove the rule about the lack of elite branded undergraduate online institutions.
There are good reasons for this difference in perception between graduate and undergraduate online degree programs. Only a minority of undergraduates fit the mold of the traditional 18 to 22-year-old, living and studying on campus. The majority of undergraduates commute, go to school part-time, are working adults, or do all three. Still, the bundled full-time 18-22-year-old residential undergraduate experience is still what we think of as "college". And in that world, online learning remains at the margins.
Most of us would say that online education is a good substitute for a residential masters degree. We would not say the same about a traditional residential undergraduate degree program. (Or would we?)
That is why I'm so interested in high schools.
For a few elite high schools, online education has transitioned into a desirable feature.
Far from being viewed as an inferior substitute, for some students at some schools, online education is now a marker of premium status.
Could the same thing ever happen to higher education?
You might know of other elite online high schools.
The folks at Dwight Global Online reached out to me to chat, so I know most about this school. Dwight Global Online focuses on educating students who want a rigorous, intimate, small-scale, and high-quality prep school educational experience - but who have complicated schedules that make attending a regular prep school impossible. These students include serious athletes, dancers, actors, and other young people whose commitments make it impossible to participate in classes on a regular schedule.
For kids in the 7th to 12th grade whose practice, tournament, training, rehearsal, and performance schedules don't allow them to come to a physical campus daily, online education appears to be an ideal solution. They can attend classes wherever they are in the world. They can shift their times of studying around their existing commitments. They can practice and perform without having to miss class.
Dwight Global Online School is particularly interesting as it is part of the larger Dwight School, with campuses in New York, London, Seoul, Shanghai, and Dubai. Dwight Global Online students can take residential classes at any of the global campuses. The mix of online and residential learning provides students with opportunities for hands-on learning and socializing with fellow students and teachers, while also ensuring flexibility.
As one would expect from a highly selective and expensive independent school, Dwight Global Online classes are small and rigorous. The instructional model is the same as the higher education seminar, with an emphasis on dialog and debate. Classes are conducted asynchronously (on Canvas) and synchronously (on Adobe Connect).
In learning about how Dwight Global Online educates elite high school athletes and performers, I kept thinking about the experience that these students will have once they get to college.
How often must today's student-athletes miss classes while traveling for a game or a tournament?
How many students might want the advantages of a high-quality bundled undergraduate education, including a campus to spend time on, with the flexibility of being able to study from anywhere in the world?
Can we imagine an existing selective undergraduate institution creating a separate online school, much like Dwight Global Online, so that students have a choice of going back and forth between the residential and online options?
What would a fully online and low-residency undergraduate option look like at a highly selective university?
Is there a large enough demand from athletes and performers for this sort of online education undergraduate option?
Are high schools like Dwight Global Online and the Stanford Online High School signals about one possible online future of traditional undergraduate education?