The New York Times has an interesting article about moving K-12 education online to save money. The article discusses both the pros and cons, an interesting read.
The current economy has given local school districts a big incentive to cut costs. Giving kids computers to attend online classes is a lot cheaper than local flesh and blood teachers, but the article cites cases where it's not just a win-win for everyone. Specifically, the students can short circuit learning by cutting and pasting answers from wikipedia, and teachers can be overwhelmed with very large virtual class sizes. The net effect is an online school can become a diploma mill, a for-profit diploma mill. In my opinion, the basics of learning still need personal attention, especially in the primary grades. It's not clear that online education is suitable to do that job. That's the downside. On the positive side, students can enroll in courses where there would be too little interest. The online environment seems ideal for that- i.e. allows students to choose advanced or special interest courses. Another good use is when students are living widely dispersed from the school. Online courses would allow studends to "phone" into their classes via broadband links. That would save both the time and the energy costs of busing students. It's a balancing act, for sure.
I last mentioned online education on my blog last October. I had just seen a video presentation about the Open High School of Utah