Research from SRI International Offers Insights to Guide Online Algebra Course Development

Aug 21, 2013, 14:05 ET from SRI International

MENLO PARK, Calif., Aug. 21, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- A new report issued by SRI International, Supporting K-12 Students in Online Learning: A Review of Online Algebra I Courses, informs both designers and purchasers of online courseware about the characteristics of online Algebra I courses available in the market. The report draws attention to a pressing challenge: increasing the accessibility of online courses to at-risk and struggling students. Addressing this challenge will be important if online learning is to support the long-standing government priority of achieving equity in American education. To help education providers successfully address this challenge, the next phase of SRI research will identify which features of online learning systems are associated with improved student outcomes.

Six large-scale providers of online courses – Apex Learning,, Edgenuity, Florida Virtual School, K¹² Inc., and Michigan Virtual School – participated in the SRI study.

"We know that algebra is an important course that can be a gateway to more advanced math classes and future college attendance, and online courses, especially Algebra I, are increasingly popular in classrooms across the nation," said Marianne Bakia, Ph.D., program director in SRI International's Center for Technology in Learning and lead author of the report. "But the growth of online learning courses is outpacing the research in terms of quality and best practices for student success." 

In response to this need, Bakia and her research team conducted independent reviews of the online Algebra I courses of six large-scale providers—Apex Learning,, Edgenuity, Florida Virtual School, K¹² Inc., and Michigan Virtual School. The researchers focused on course characteristics that are most likely to support student learning. The report outlines factors that contribute to successful learning, including course content and organization, instructional strategies, media design, and assessments.

Key report findings

  • Wide range of implementation models: Course providers included in the study offer a range of services and support based on local need and interest.
  • Active in Common Core alignment: Course providers are actively aligning online courses with Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM); however, there currently isn't a widely accepted method to determine whether online courses are fully aligned with CCSSM. The report introduces a visual approach to examining CCSSM alignment.
  • Opportunities for course accessibility and student support: Course providers are in the early stages of exploring the full possibilities of online medium to support a broad diversity of learners. SRI's review finds additional opportunities for online courses and teachers to provide information and assistance to students and encourage student confidence, resilience, and self-regulation skills.
  • Importance of on-site support: Courseware providers are increasingly emphasizing the importance of – and providing guidance for – on-site support for students, such as mentors to encourage successful completion of coursework.
  • Assessment and feedback: Research shows that feedback is critical to student success. All courses reviewed provided formative and summative assessments; however the data is primarily focused on correctness of answers and not students' thinking process. Researchers recommend more feedback on student reasoning.

 This report, made possible with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is the first of two products to come out of the study of online Algebra 1 courses.

About SRI International
Innovations from SRI International have created new industries, billions of dollars of marketplace value, and lasting benefits to society—touching our lives every day. SRI, a nonprofit research and development institute based in Silicon Valley, brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, new products, and spin-off ventures. Government and business clients come to SRI for pioneering R&D and solutions in computing and communications, chemistry and materials, education, energy, health and pharmaceuticals, national defense, robotics, sensing, and more.

Visit SRI's website and Timeline of Innovation to learn more about SRI.

SRI is an established leader in digital learning and has conducted $30 million of research and development in the field over 20 years.

SOURCE SRI International