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Four Ways Quality Virtual Learning Is Opening Doors

Four Ways Quality Virtual Learning Is Opening Doors

Virtual learning can open doors of possibility to students who may find traditional brick-and-mortar school restrictive in time, place, and/or pace. Yet a cloud of uncertainty—created by the hasty emergency implementation of virtual learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—has acted as a barrier for some to expanding the use of virtual learning to reimagine K–12 education with more flexibility of when, where, and how learning happens. With schools flush with technology and stakeholders open to change, the time is ripe to explore the positive impacts virtual learning can have for all involved.

To differentiate the sometimes negative connotations associated with remote learning from the benefits of virtual learning as a whole and to highlight the possibilities virtual learning offers, Edmentum partnered with Whiteboard Advisors to author “A Human Centered Vision for Quality Virtual Learning.” The emphasis of the white paper is on quality virtual learning that is thoughtfully implemented and, as such, extends opportunity to more students who can benefit from learning formats that were not available to them in the past.

Here are a few examples featured in the white paper that provide models of expanded   opportunities provided to students through quality virtual learning.

Bringing at-risk students back

At Odyssey Online Learning, a virtual school in South Carolina, approximately 59 percent of students experience one or more risk factors, including transience, homelessness, or low income. It is also a school of last resort for many students who have dropped out of their traditional brick-and-mortar school.

“What we’re doing is working,” said Ashley Owings, the school’s executive director. “And when you see our students walk across the stage after all that they have been through to complete this chapter of their learning journey, those moments speak for themselves.”

Finding alternatives to expulsion

Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., will use virtual learning as an alternative for students who would otherwise be expelled.

“Instead of working toward expulsion and digging students into a deeper hole that they may never climb out of, how can you work towards giving someone a chance to reset, reflect, and then return to your [school] poised for success,” said Ken Cherry, Friendship’s chief of staff.

Expanding options

Gadsden Independent School District in New Mexico, partnered with a virtual learning provider to provide teachers for science classes that would otherwise have had no regular instructor. Now, the district is exploring ways to offer standalone electives to middle and high school students virtually.

“We want kids to have a rich selection of electives to choose from,” said Nicholas Wohlgemuth, the director of secondary schools. “If a student says, ‘I’m really interested in taking Chinese,’ we want them to have that. If a student wants to pursue career or technical education, that’s another aspect we’re looking at too.”

Serving transient and homeless students

At Odyssey Junior and Senior Charter High School in Palm Bay, Florida, retired principal Monica Knight said that the school’s virtual programs are a good fit for homeless students who move out of the district. “We put them in a full virtual program until they are able to come back or transition into another permanent setting,” she said.

Aware of the need to create connection between educators and students in a virtual environment, every virtual student receives a “champion” who facilitates relationship-building between students and their online instructors.

Hallmarks of Quality Virtual Learning

Quality virtual learning will, by necessity, never be one thing or a one-size-fits-all model. Its potential lies its flexibility and in the evolving nature of what virtual learning can be. As reflected in the models above, the adaptability of virtual learning means that program models will rarely be the same because the learners and the program goals aren’t the same. So, designing programs with the needs of learners at the forefront—instead of the technology—is critical for good outcomes. “A Human-Centered Vision for Quality Virtual Learning” proposes three key themes possessed by quality virtual learning experiences.

It’s about people

The idea that virtual learning is solitarily working at home is not a characteristic of quality virtual learning. Districts must design virtual learning experiences with relationships at the center where educators engage and guide students’ virtual learning experiences and students participate in lively learning communities where they engage in dialogue and practice social skills.

Good instruction is good instruction

Pedagogically strong, standards-based instruction should guide quality virtual learning. However, tried-and-true classroom practices may not fit the online environment, so districts must make intentional efforts to develop educator skills that are specific and effective for virtual learning.

The culture is focused on the success of all students

Carefully planned systems must be in place to ensure equitable access to all modes of learning and to provide teachers and learners with tools and resources they need for success. Districts must have a keen awareness of what all students they are serving need when creating programs that truly place student needs at the forefront.

As districts continually seek solutions for serving all students, it is time to explore the role that virtual learning can play in educating and proving opportunities for a wider range of students. It is time to embrace the characteristics of quality virtual learning instead of dwelling on the frustrations of the virtual learning that came as the response to pandemic-induced emergency school closures.

To learn more about the hallmarks and opportunities quality virtual learning brings, visit our The Future of Virtual Learning website, where you’ll find the white paper, tools, and more information about implementing and expanding learning for your students through virtual learning.