Improving The Learning Lamp s Online Learning Program to Better Meet the Needs of Students and Schools

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1 We re lighting the way to a brighter future! 2025 Bedford Street Johnstown, PA Fax: thelearninglamp.org Improving The Learning Lamp s Online Learning Program to Better Meet the Needs of Students and Schools Online Learning is growing at a rapid pace and holds great promise as an instructional strategy to expand and customize learning opportunities for many students. It is defined as teacher-led instruction delivered primarily via the Internet that includes software to provide a structured learning environment, and where the student and teacher are separated geographically. For eight years, The Learning Lamp has worked together with Pennsylvania schools to expand course options for K-12 students through online learning. Since the start of the program, it has served 68 Pennsylvania school districts across 30 counties, and worked with students in ten charter and private schools, two IU-operated online consortium programs, and schools in four states. Offerings include credit recovery, K-12 core courses, electives, enrichment courses and a turn-key option for districts who want to establish their own alternative to cyber charter schools. The Learning Lamp s program debuted in 2006, when the organization partnered with blendedschools.net, an online curriculum platform, to provide teachers for online courses. The now-named Blended Schools Network (BSN) was founded in 2002 by Pennsylvania school superintendents for the purpose of bringing high quality online learning to all students. It was a synergistic relationship. BSN provided the tools and The Learning Lamp supplied the human capital to manage and instruct online learning programs for school. In the beginning, the organizational structure of BSN was similar to that of The Learning Lamp. It was a mission-driven 501(c)3 nonprofit governed by a board of directors, all of whom where public school leaders. BSN gave The Learning Lamp use of its curriculum and platform at no cost. In exchange, The Learning Lamp paved the way for schools to roll out BSN s online learning program more easily than they could have without outside support. The relationship with BSN has changed over time. BSN is now owned by a forprofit company, which competes directly with The Learning Lamp to offer teaching services to schools, and The Learning Lamp pays a fee for use of the platform and curriculum. The online learning program at The Learning Lamp launched in September of That first year, the program enrolled students in a total of 80 courses and generated $16,100 in revenue. It grew steadily through Then in 2012, it exploded with close to 1,400 course enrollments from Chester-Upland School District and an additional 475 course enrollments from Albert Gallatin School District. Chester- Upland, located in Delaware County, was in receivership, and the acting superintendent was looking for options to keep students from fleeing the district. Working with The Learning Lamp to offer school-funded alternatives to cyber charters was one of his strategies. Albert Gallatin School District (AGSD), which is located in rural Fayette County, signed on with The Learning Lamp as a transitional provider of instructional services until its staff could be trained in the use of The mission of The Learning Lamp is to engage all children with the support they need to succeed. The Learning Lamp is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, donations to The official registration and financial information of The Learning Lamp may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free with in Pennsylvania, Registration does not imply endorsement.

2 BSN. From the outset, it was clear this district was a short-term contract. The district has since moved from BSN to PLATO for online courses. AGSD still uses the organization for occasional credit recovery classes, but Chester-Upland is no longer a client district. Growth of the online learning program peaked in the school year at 2,409 course enrollments. At the time, the organization was providing online learning services to 33 school districts in 18 counties of Pennsylvania. It generated $411,737 in gross revenue from online learning. But the bottom was about to drop out. Thus far in 2014, the organization has enrolled students in 1,181 courses, half the number achieved in Annual income is down, as well. As of October 31, 2014, the online program had generated only $148,840 in gross income. Budget projections indicate it will finish the year at $178,608. So what went wrong? The answer is as complex as it is to run a quality online learning program with strong student outcomes. According to a report by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, by roughly 2019, 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online in some form or fashion. A 2013 survey of 165 K-12 school leaders by Fuel Education indicates 82 percent of school districts are already offering online credit recovery classes. Of the districts surveyed, 81 percent also offer other online options for students, versus just 66 percent the year prior. The most growth occurred in districts with 1,000 or more students. K-12 online learning is a rapidly maturing industry, and it is critical that The Learning Lamp make needed program corrections now in order to gain a foothold. So what did go wrong? A team of six employees from The Learning Lamp approached answering this question in a number of ways. The team, which included CEO Leah Spangler, educational programs managers Emily Theys and Jona Duppstadt, lead online teacher Rachel Sernell, and supporting online teachers Amanda Peretin and Scott Jani, looked closely at the historical data provided through financial and board reports. The group considered who the stakeholders were, and determined they included students, parents, online teachers, internal program managers and school district staff. Each member of the team was assigned an audience segment and either interviewed representatives of the segment by phone or conducted a focus group. Employees of The Learning Lamp also completed a SWOT analysis for the online learning program at a weekly staff meeting. In addition to gathering first-person data, Spangler also delved into a large body of academic research on best practices in planning, implementing and managing online learning programs. And while employees of The Learning Lamp have examined this problem in the past, this time, the approach was more comprehensive, and included many more individuals. Examination of board reports shed light on an overarching management issue. From the outset, the program never really had an internal champion. Within the organization, online learning had always been viewed as an also ran just something else The Learning Lamp did. Initially the program was spearheaded by an independent contractor who was a full-time employee of a cyber charter school. While she was an experienced online educator, her view of customer service and helping students succeed did not align with those of the organization.

3 Within a year, it was determined that the program needed to be managed internally. It was then assigned to the education director, but from 2007 to 2010, the organization did not have an individual in that position who was the right fit for the job. In fact, three different individuals filled the position during that time span. When the right person was finally on board, her focus was on other areas. She built a phenomenal school staffing program, but didn t spend much time with online learning, as the program appeared to be performing well. And while the online learning program was incrementally improving in quality, the organization was not reaching out to new schools and its search for new curriculum and platform options made little progress. The program began to wither. In addition to a lack of leadership, several other issues were identified, either through complaints, surveys, feedback solicited through phone calls to school district staff, or internal analysis. Issues under the control of The Learning Lamp include excessive time to enroll a student in a class, teachers who don t respond to students in the required timeframe, unclear expectations for students, and staff members enforcing rules they don t always follow themselves. Additionally, very little marketing for the program has occurred in the last few years. The research team also identified trouble spots that are beyond the control of the organization. Through awareness, the organization can anticipate problems and solve them quickly. These issues include varying levels of technology skills among students, hardware issues that partner schools are sometimes slow to address, connectivity problems, course content that is inconsistent in its rigor, and difficulties within the BSN platform itself, specifically broken links and problems with the SoftChalk component, which includes self-grading quizzes and tests that sometimes grade incorrectly. Unfortunately, students and parents don t understand that problems occur for a number of reasons, some of them not within the control of the organization. It became quite clear through survey results that ALL problems are viewed as belonging to The Learning Lamp, regardless of the real source. According to the Evergreen Education Group, a national consulting firm that specializes in building K-12 online learning programs, the critical initial question that all educators and stakeholders should ask when starting or expanding, or in this case, revamping an online learning program is: What educational goals are we trying to meet? At The Learning Lamp, the answer is driven by the organization s mission statement, which is engaging all children in the support they need to succeed. That can take many forms, from credit recovery to full-time enrollment in core and enrichment courses, depending on the needs of the student. The online learning program must also be a good fit for our rural school district partners. The program should be affordable, accessible, and offer support for both students and school staff with varying levels of technology proficiency. Evergreen Consulting recommends that educators address four key areas when building an online learning program: content, teaching, technology and operations. From a content perspective, The Learning Lamp has struggled with blendedschools.net. Content and rigor are not consistent from course to course. Earlier this year, the organization began offering courses through Odysseyware in addition to BSN. The organization s online teachers agree that the Odysseyware course content is better and more consistent. The organization is also now offering PLATO online learning courses

4 in a pilot program at Forest Hills School District. Other course options also should be explored as The Learning Lamp moves away from BSN as its primary online learning platform. Additionally, expectations for online teachers must be consistently enforced, and they should be trained how to teach an online course. Online, their role is more as a mentor and facilitator, than as a disseminator of information. Technology issues must be addressed, as well. While The Learning Lamp does not handle technology support for the students enrolled in its courses, it must work closely with schools to ensure online students have the hardware, technology, and connectivity they need prior to starting. It s frustrating for a student to enroll in an online program, then wait weeks to begin. By developing technology checklists and building relationships with school technology staff, these types of issues can be more easily addressed. Finally, the daily operations of the online learning program must become a priority. Staff that is passionate about the program should lead the charge. This means re-assigning duties within the organization. Students must be enrolled immediately. Communication with partner school districts should be handled with urgency. Students must be monitored closely to ensure success, with progress reporting occurring at regularly scheduled intervals by teachers who stick to the schedule. Underperforming students should be provided extra resources. Students who clearly have no interest in completing coursework should be outcounseled from the online program and placed in a more structured educational setting. Additionally, the program should be marketed to schools in the immediate vicinity of the organization through direct contact with guidance counselors, principals and superintendents. By focusing on nearby schools, blended learning opportunities can be offered to students who need more structure than a purely online setting can provide. With an internal champion, as well as these strategies in place, The Learning Lamp can build a robust online learning program that is effective and flexible, and meets the needs of area students and schools. This will be a great addition to the local educational landscape, as it will open up opportunities for students in even the smallest, most remote districts of the Allegheny region.

5 Online Learning Analysis Year Income 2006 $16, $55, $42, $109, $138, $301, $406, $411, *$187,515 *The 2014 number was adjusted to include the November/December billings School districts served by the online learning program (68): Albert Gallatin, Bangor Area, Bedford Area, Bellwood-Antis, Bentworth, Berlin, Canton Area, Carmichaels Area, Connellsville, Cameron County, Canton Area, Catasauqua Area, Chambersburg, Chartiers-Houston, Chestnut Ridge, Chester-Upland, Clearfield, Connellsville, Conemaugh Township, Conemaugh Valley, Conestoga Valley, Conrad Weiser, Dover, Elizabethtown, ELCO, Ferndale, Forest Hills, Glendale, Hamburg, Hollidaysburg, Hopewell, Jefferson Morgan, Jersey Shore, Laurel Highlands, Ligonier Valley, Marion Center, Meyersdale, North Star, Northern Bedford, Northern Cambria, Northern Lebanon, Otto- Eldred, Palisades, Penns Manor, Portage, Richland, Rockwood, Sayre Area, Selinsgrove, Shade-Central City, Shanksville-Stonycreek, Somerset, South Park, South Eastern, Southeastern Greene, Southern Fulton, Southern Tioga, Spring Cove, Stroudsburg, Sullivan County, Towanda Area, Troy Area, Tulpehocken, United, West Greene, Westmont-Hilltop, Williamsburg Community, Windber, and Wyalusing. Charter schools (5): Central Pennsylvania Digital Learning Foundation, Mast Charter, New Media Charter, Tuscarora Blended Charter School, World Communications Charter IUs (2): IU1, IU17 Private schools (5): Bishop Carroll, Bishop McCort, Clearfiled Alliance Christian, Grace Academy (MD), Johnstown Christian Out of state (2): Bristol Eastern (CT), Warren Central (OH) Counties (30): Beaver, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Bucks, Cambria, Clearfield, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Lycoming, McKean, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia, Somerset, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Washington, Westmoreland, York States (4): Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania

6 Online Learning Timeline Year Milestones Program was launched in the late fall as a partnership with blendedschools.net (BSN) -September board meeting minutes indicate communications issues with BSN staff -November board meeting minutes indicate we needed better infrastructure to manage program -Program enrolled 80 students, but had a fairly high dropout rate -Program was being managed by an independent contractor, who had experience in online learning -Finished year with $16,100 in online learning revenues January minutes indicate ongoing communications issues and problems with getting text books -By May, 17 PA school districts had students enrolled in our online program -Summer credit recovery numbers were strong, but program was mismanaged -During the summer, we determined the need to move management of the program in house -Management was moved to a staff person in September -By November, we had students from 10 school districts enrolled in 113 course enrollments -November meeting minutes indicate significant issues with management of program -The newly hired education director was not working out, and this contributed to the issues -Organization determined it would not accept any new enrollments until issues were fixed -Finished year with $55,038 in revenue January meeting minutes indicate the online learning program was being redeveloped -In March, we were focused on updating materials for summer credit recovery -23 local students from WASD, RSD, WHSD and FHSD enrolled in spring credit recovery -20 school districts had students enrolled in BSN courses through The Learning Lamp in Course enrollments totaled 235 -Finished year with $42,698 in revenue course enrollments, with a withdrawal rate of 48 percent for the SY -182 summer credit recovery enrollments, down from 261 the previous year -September minutes indicate four new school districts: Bedford, Dover, Hamburg and BLAST IU17 -In November, we had 76 course enrollments to date for the SY -Finished year with $109,295 in online learning revenue Met with new BSN CEO Duff Rearick in January to expand the partnership -New online learning program manager took over (Melissa Rager) -By March, we had 252 courses enrolled, 176 SY courses and 76 credit recovery courses -By May, those numbers increased to 292, 200 SY courses and 92 credit recovery courses -Accepted 181 course enrollments for summer credit recovery -In November 2010, we had 241 full-year course enrollments -Partners included Dover, IU17, Tulpehocken, Hamburg, Spring Cove, Elizabethtown and S. Fulton -13 school districts and private schools referred students for credit recovery courses -Finished year with $138,567 in online learning revenue We finished the SY with 514 course enrollments -An additional 149 students participated in credit recovery -We worked with seven school districts plus IU17 to provide online school year courses -We worked with 18 school districts to provide credit recovery online -At the beginning of the SY, we were working with 22 districts to provide online courses -Finished the year with $300,685 in revenue Marked the high point of the program, with 2,409 course enrollments during the SY

7 -293 of those courses were credit recovery, which served 33 districts in 17 counties -The January and March board reports indicated we were working with 24 districts -In November, this increased to 25 school districts in 18 counties - In March, we introduced Blended Learning Technologies (BLT), a partnership with In-Shore Technologies, which offered schools a turn-key solution for the cyber charter problem -BLT cut the cost for educating online students in half, compared with cyber charter tuition -Finished the year with $406,166 in revenue The January board report indicated we were working with 25 school districts in 18 counties -In March this increased to 26 school districts in 19 counties -The numbers increased again in May with 407 students in 31 school districts and 18 counties -Two Ferndale students were enrolled in Blended Learning Technologies, the online partnership with In-Shore Technologies -The Learning Lamp served 415 students in 31 PA districts and 20 counties during the SY -A total of 265 credit recovery courses were completed in Credit recovery occurred at 29 schools in 10 counties + Grace Academy in Maryland -The November board report shows we had 381 course enrollments thus far for the SY -Finished the year with $411,737 in revenue January board report indicates 127 students are enrolled in 421 courses -As of January, program was serving 18 school districts and 10 PA counties + Maryland -Counties include Berks, Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Greene, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Somerset, Washington and York -Districts include Albert Gallatin, Chartiers-Houston, Conemaugh Township, Connellsville, Conrad Weiser, Dover, ELCO, Ferndale, Glendale, Hamburg, Hollidaysburg, Laurel Highlands, Marion Center, Mast Charter, North Star, Northern Cambria, Palisades, Richland, Shanksville, Somerset, Southeastern Greene, Spring Cove, and Windber -By March, 180 students in 21 school districts across 12 counties and Maryland were being served -In May, 201 students in 25 school districts across 13 counties and Maryland were being served -During the summer the organization switched from blackboard LMS to Canvas. We also added Odysseyware -The Learning Lamp provided 618 course enrollments during the SY -Generated $148,840 in revenue as of October 31, 2014

8 SWOT Analysis Completed by staff members Strengths Accountability Flexibility Teacher Support Cost/Affordable Options for blending Graduate with district diploma Keeps kids in districts Progress Reports Multiple class options Experience with different settings Opportunities Problem solver (can market it as a problem solver) Growth of market Customization for students and schools Different market segments Get testimonials Students want turn key Alt ed programs Rebrand online learning programs Develop marketing plan Program coordination Weaknesses Marketing Curriculum (BSN) Internal/External communication No tool for parents to monitor child progress No parent /broken s Hi-tech Hi-Touch Lack of clarity Threats Perception (from supers and teachers) Online learning viewed as substandard Compete with programs with field trips and other free things Other providers Declining customer base Districts more comfortable running their own program

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