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Virtual Education on the Rise
posted by: Alix | September 13, 2011, 03:57 PM   

With back-to-school season in full swing, this school year's increase in virtual education programs is noticeable almost nationwide. Currently, 40 states offer or sanction some type of online education for their students, with other states considering proposals ever legislation session. As we look forward to closing achievement gaps in the years ahead, virtual education advocates are calling online learning a solution for students and teachers alike.

Experts contend that while there is still work to be done to modernize our education system to compete in a global economy, current and emerging virtual education programs can shorten the timeline in bridging gaps and help in advancing gifted students. Essentially, online learning and virtual courses allow students to customize their education experience by choosing from a potentially unlimited course offering.

"It levels the playing field by helping kids who need extra help to catch up at their own pace," said Michael B. Horn, executive director of Innosight Institute. The move toward digital learning is a revolution that has already started and will keep growing over the next decade, Horn forecasted, maintaining that online and virtual education is much more than the alternative high schools where some students taking their classes, but will become part of the standard education experience.

Digital learning and online coursework can enable students at schools of all levels that don't offer advanced or special needs classes to take them online. Online programs can serve as summer school for students who are falling behind, or aid in keeping students on pace to succeed. Imagine a student taking an advanced Japanese language lesson from a rural school in Arkansas, or a special needs student taking advantage of additional fundamental skill lessons in the evening. With online learning comes a customized experience for every child.

Further, certain states assert that investing in the virtual school model can be cost-effective. The Florida Virtual School says it spends about $2,500 less per pupil than a traditional school because it does not need to maintain a facility, run buses or keep up athletic fields. The school currently serves 115,000 students across the state.

In Pennsylvania, districts are moving toward a blended-learning model where they offer both the traditional classroom environment and online courses. The program is focused on combining virtual education with school district services, such as individualized access to district teachers and guidance counselors, and participation in co-curricular and extracurricular activities for middle and high school students.

In Utah, on the heels of virtual learning bill SB65, districts are working together to offer more online courses to students across the state. Under the new law, public school students in high school may take up to two classes online in a school year, offered by other school districts and charter schools, and not just at their regular high schools.

Another leader in virtual education is Idaho. Last week, the state approved an administrative rule that requires students to take a class online, and is home to the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-led virtual school which served nearly 10,000 students last school year.

While we move forward into another school year, online learning seems to be at the forefront of the many exciting advances in education. As virtual education gains ground nationally, research indicates that as many of 50 percent of all high school courses will be offered online by 2019. Clearly, this is technology that will become a common part of student learning in the years to come.

What are your thoughts about virtual education?
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