Wouldn't it be more efficient and affordable for many schools to switch to a digital model (away from brick and mortar institutions) where funds can be used solely to pay teachers and develop academics instead of maintaining a building?


Ipek Bakir, Consultant, researcher, human-centered design and data advocate

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As mentioned above, Clayton Christensen's book is a great source for contemplating more on the notion of virtual schools and schooling as disruptive innovations.

Virtual schools can be seen as disruptive innovation as they challenge both the physical and the conceptual structure of traditional brick and mortar schools. As argued by Christensen et al., virtual schools can find a unique and new place in the education market. For homebound students, for example, virtual schools offer the educational experience that they otherwise wouldn't be able to have. Virtual schools, therefore, have the potential to disrupt the exiting market by creating new ones. "The new and publicly funded online schools are proving to be more than merely another delivery system for students. In a wide range of other industries, and now, increasingly in K-12 education, the Internet has enabled deep structural changes. In each case, new organizations developed alternative management structures, distribution methods, and work models” (Tucker, 2007, p.1).

Virtual schools expand the boundaries of schools by making equity and accessibility possible through a new medium. For example, students in rural areas that traditionally have been bound to schools with limited curriculum and class offerings can benefit from the option of virtual schools. Lastly, when used for redefining physical boundaries and resource allocation, technology may facilitate the line between school life and real life to become blurry, thus causing students to engage in much deeper learning process than the one offered in traditional school settings.


Bill Tucker, "Laboratories of Reform: Virtual High Schools and Innovation in Public Education. Education Sector Reports, June 2007.

Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Jennifer Oleniczak, Founder and Artistic Director of The Engaging Educator

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While the thought of paying teachers and focusing purely on development versus building cost does sound incredibly promising, the sheer socialization that takes place and development that happens with children interacting can't be overlooked. In digital environments, group projects and shared learning can happen, but the developmental milestones IN school, as well as the interpersonal skills that are built by children connecting with adults and peers alike are crucial to healthy development.

While there is a constant battle of homeschool vs school socialization there is also a push to get kids away from screens

As an educator that teaches individuals to be present and interact with one another, the act of going to school, being present and connecting to people face-to-face is a SKILL that is developed in school, and shouldn't be overlooked in efforts to digitize education. Any method that is strictly one way or another is incredibly limiting on the student.

Amy McElroy, SMU Law School graduate, Writer, Editor, and Parent of Two

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I want to emphasize the importance of face-to-face interaction mentioned by the other experts for developing important social skills and certain academic requirements. Even most "homeschool" programs involve a collaboration of online classes, co-teaching, group physical education classes, performing arts classes, social activities, and other group activities, including field trips for a well-rounded education. Without buildings of any kind, these important educational components would be impossible.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher, Author, and Artist

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I agree with what Dr. Smith said above with regards to costs of maintaining, updating, and staffing an all-digital or technology based college only. There are many problems associated with digital learning that many people who have never been through these types of programs don't understand. Much of it has to do with the internet, bandwidth strength, the ability of the servers to process and accept a certain amount (or # of) of user's and all the data they are uploading. There is no question that there are computers and servers today that can handle the workload, but they take constant monitoring and attention. Errors happen, especially when many of the human users are prone to mistakes, and we all know technology can mess up on its own at any time. It's much easier to stick with what is proven and cannot be tampered with barring a major disastrous occurrence like a hurricane or earthquake; most colleges are conducive to, and can accommodate for these occurrences, and the have the resources right there on hand, in the classrooms, something that usually cannot be replaced online. The cost of technical support, not to mention the hours spent learning, or fidgeting with various programs and apps for instance, make the digital education age a nice option to have, but not a perfect alternative. Hope that makes sense to you!

Dylan Ferniany, Ed.D. in Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

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There is an interesting movement toward virtual learning that gets at this tradeoff. Right now most schools are doing blended learning, where teachers provide some of their content online. However, more and more states and districts are offering virtual options. My state legislature (Alabama) just required every district to create a policy for virtual learning. Some schools now have full virtual options where students don't come to school. This has obvious economic benefits (personnel, scale, material resources). However, when we shift the burden from the school to the home to have the technology that it takes to be a virtual student, it is not always equitable. That's why many districts that offer a virtual option still have a brick & mortar location that acts as a "hub" for virtual students. Still, you don't have to staff it in the same way as a regular school because students are taking courses from teachers virtually, some of whom may have a class of 200 students. I do think we are moving in that direction. I just read a great book on the topic, Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen. You can learn more about disruptive innovation in education from the Christensen Institute.

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, Tutor, and Professional Ski Instructor

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Although there is much to be said about virtual schooling, there are several elements missing... 1) The human element. Human, face-to-face, interaction is perhaps the number one thing that determines how much (how well) a student (most of them) is able to learn the material. 2) Hands on interactions. For many sciences, having exposure to hands on labs (labs that would not be possible, or safe, or practical for students to do at home on their own) is a key contributor to learning the material deeply and fully. All while the teacher is there to ask guiding questions, offer help, and assist in making connections to the theory.

Matthew Phelan, Journalist, former Chemical Engineer, proud Houseplant Owner of three

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Dr. Aaron Smith (earlier in this question's thread of answers) makes an important point.

You can find many newspaper reports confirming this trend, like this Philadelphia Daily News piece, which focuses on the rising salaries of college administrators and presidents. The Daily News piece cites a survey by the American Association of University Professors which shows that the compensation of public community-college presidents can range from $81,000 to $390,000, in some cases higher than the salary of a city mayor or a state governor. Arguably, this executive compensation issue is the more pressing financial burden than the brick-and-mortar school campuses.

As Jennifer Oleniczak said earlier (also in this thread), there are key social and life skills attending school in person helps to build, so maintaining that option is a worthy investment.

Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School

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80% of a school division's budget is comprised of salaries and benefits. So if there were more on-line classes and less on-site classes will not necessarily be more beneficial.

For example, although there are saving with heat / AC, there would be more costs associated with the computer infrastructure and even the possibility of hiring more techs to keep the programs and servers functioning.

I believe that the current generation of students need a balance of in-class and on-line educators. This provides students an opportunity to interact via the computer while maintaining the chance to learn traditionally. Having both modalities ensures that there is a true balance in the curriculum and provides more real-world experiences for students that will help transition them better to the workplace.

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