Today's college students have grown up in the digital age, a world of information at their fingertips.
Yet, when Dr. Veronica Ent of St. Vincent College tells education majors they may not teach in a traditional classroom after graduation, they are surprised.
"They've all grown up in the face-to-face classroom, and they come into teaching thinking that's what they're going to do," said Ent, chairwoman of the education department. "When you say to them there's a chance you'll be doing online delivery, they're shocked."
This fall, St. Vincent began introducing students to online teaching methods.
But colleges and universities generally have been slow to add online teaching instruction, said officials from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland in Beaver County.
"It's one of the topics that we preach about and we ask about and try to get colleges interested in, and it's like pulling teeth," said spokesman Fred Miller. "We have some terrific teaching colleges, but to get more online education into their curriculum has just proven a tough nut to crack."
In 2009, 5 percent of all learning in America came in an entirely online setting; 40 percent combined online and traditional, and 55 percent used traditional classrooms, said Andy Petro, who supervises virtual classroom technology at Pa Cyber Charter.
By 2014, research indicates that the percentage of online-only learning will jump to about 13 percent, with about 20 percent in a traditional classroom, Petro said. The majority will blend the two.
His school, which opened in 2000 with fewer than 500 students, now has nearly 11,000 students.
"What we experience is that ... there's a whole world of online instruction that the students are not being introduced to in college," Petro said. "There's a skill set that those folks need to have."
Miller said his school has partnered with Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to offer a master's degree in education with a focus on technology. At Seton Hill University in Greensburg and California University of Pennsylvania in Washington County, students learn to build curriculum for online courses, officials said.
Cyber schools teach through computers at students' homes. Students and their parents pick the curriculum and a method of delivery. Some students choose a real-time environment where they connect with teachers and classmates several times a week. Others prefer self-paced learning, where teachers provide lessons and students work when they choose.
Students can find jobs at cyber schools, Ent said, and graduates will need to be marketable to public schools that offer online courses.
Seniors at St. Vincent preparing for student teaching learn to develop lessons for classroom and online delivery, and to use software favored by cyber schools.
Senior Katherine Clark, 20, of Latrobe, said she is "fascinated" by the possibilities of teaching an interactive class online. She was particularly impressed by software that allows students to write something -- like a math problem -- that the teacher watches in real time.
"This is one-on-one, direct …