Virtual Schools

The online learning has grown quickly over the past few years in universities, businesses, and is becoming more available in the K-12 arena. The Education Commission of the States found the following information:

  • The Southern Regional Education Board estimates that over 100,000 students were enrolled in online courses during the 2002-2003 school year.
  • Over fifty virtual charter schools were operating during the 2002-2003 school year.
  • Some states are reporting that a growing percentage of schools have students enrolled in an online course.

One of the differences between online learning and traditional classrooms are the location and accessibility. Online learning can be in many forms. There are many multimedia technologies and the World Wide Web to deliver content. This form of learning can take many forms like entirely online with no face-to-face meetings or some sort of blended learning that combines face-to-face with online delivery. With virtual schools it could be synchronous (interacting with the instructor live) or asynchronous (working on your own). Subject matter teachers, through collaborative structure, or through self-directed learning, can provide the virtual school instruction.

The United States Department of Education has issued guidance defining virtual schools as a legal acceptable way to create additional capacity for students wishing to change schools. The Department looks at virtual schools as a powerful technology innovation expanding opportunities for “learning any time, any place” in line with the No Child Left Behind Act.

There are many possible benefits to the virtual school models. One of the benefits could be access to curriculum and instruction. The students would be able to download material at their convenience and review audio segments or video clips. Another benefit would be communicating between students and teachers would increase. Blogs, journals, email, discussion boards, and chats would make the learning experience with virtual schools and online learning more realistic. One of the most important benefits would be immediate feedback or assessment. This would allow the students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses while on their path of learning.

Virtual schools are an option for districts and states looking to increase their capacity to meet the choice requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. They will be able to offer quality instruction to learners regardless of location or learning differences.

The following link will take you to the Florida Virtual School which was founded in 1997 as a grant-based project between two Florida school districts, FLVS began with just 77 enrollments, a dream, and a group of educators brave enough to try online learning for secondary students. At the time, they assumed that online learning would appeal mostly to advanced computer students or students who were exceptionally self-disciplined.

They were proven wrong on both counts. In 2003-2004, FLVS served more than 20,000 students. Clearly, every kind of student imaginable is included in those numbers. Online learning is meeting real needs including credit retrieval, advancement, access to courses not normally available, and more.

Virtual schools with online interactivity are going to be a major part of the future of education.