Picture the world in 1960 and imagine how much has changed over the past half century.  Now picture the average classroom in 1960 and today.  In both, you’d probably see roughly the same thing—a teacher standing in front of a row of desks.  Today, there might be a computer or two in the classroom.  But the set-up and the teaching process are probably about the same.

This mental experiment highlights how education is one of the areas of American life that has been most resistance to change over the last 50 — if not 150 –years.  For the most part, students still pass through schools like widgets moving through a factory.   The school calendar remains based on the agrarian calendar.  Whether or not child had access to a great teacher often is still determined by where he or she lives.

This is beginning to change.  Fast.

Online or virtual learning is beginning to transform the way that children learn.  As we describe in a new report:

In the future, students will be able to receive customized instruction from teachers anywhere in the United States or even in the world. The best teachers will use technology to reach many more students. Virtual and blended-learning programs will enable mass customization in education, allowing students to learn at their own pace in ways that are tailored to their learning styles and interests.

As many as 1 million children (roughly 2 percent of the K-12 student population) are participating in some form of online learning. Today, 27 states offer statewide virtual schools that allow students to take a class online, and 24 states and the District of Columbia offer students the opportunity to attend a virtual school full-time.

Harnessing the power of technology has limitless potential to change American education for the better.  Consider how technologies like the internet and iPhone are changing how we live and just imagine what similar innovations can improve how students learn.

Here is just one example.  The Florida Virtual School, a pioneering online learning program, announced that it had created an application for the iPhone to help students learn Algebra.

It is tough to envision what exactly American education will look like in 2020 or 2050, but you can bet it’ll be different than that 1960s classroom.