13 Cavanaugh, Barbour, and Clark, “Research and practice in K–12 online learning: A review of open access literature”


Cavanaugh, C. S., Barbour, M. K., & Clark, T. (2009). Research and practice in K–12 online learning: A review of open access literature. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v10i1.607


Online learning or virtual learning is the separation of student and teacher using a web-based format. This being a growing platform for K-12 learning, requires a look into the research and practice that has already been done. In early years, the research focus was on the comparison of virtual schools to traditional schooling. The benefits of online learning were the promise to expand access to educational opportunities. However, there is no evidence supporting the quality of the virtual schooling and/or best practices to support it. Furthermore, there were issues of student readiness and retention. The students who performed best were intrinsically motivated. They also had strong time management, literacy, and technology skills. This description however was a better match with adult students and therefore there is a need for more research. In more recent years, research demonstrates the promise of virtual schooling and best practices but has little research to back it up. With continued virtual learning opportunities in the K-12 setting, there is a need for future research to support both students and teachers.

Key points

  • Areas for continued research:
    • Establish best practices for online teaching strategies
    • Improve upon identifying characteristics that are necessary to be successful in online learning environments and provide support for students when necessary
    • Encourage interaction between in-school and online classmates
    • Examine the quality of student learning experiences in school environments that are online


Just as there are best practices and methods of teaching in traditional schooling, there needs to be an equal development for K–12 online teachers. Although, there is potential to have similarities between the two, the online format brings new affordances and constraints. An affordance being the potential of all students to access quality education at any time. Some possible constraints would be the differences in assessments and communication. That being said, future research could address these constraints and allow for the development of best practices.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are other potential topics for continued research?
  2. How will these research areas benefit K–12 online learning?
  3. Which areas do you value you most?

Additional Resources


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