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Virtual Learning Program Planning: 6 Ways to Design an Application Process That Sets Up Students for Success

Virtual Learning Program Planning: 6 Ways to Design an Application Process That Sets Up Students for Success

Educators know that every student learns a little (or a lot) differently. Virtual learning options have evolved into a great resource in educators’ toolboxes to meet the needs of more students. But, every student does learn differently, and virtual learning is not the right fit for everyone.

That’s why designing a solid vetting or application process is key to the success of any virtual program. Schools and districts can provide valuable flexibility, autonomy, and expanded course options by creating a virtual program, but making sure that the right students are connected with the opportunity needs to be the first step. Check out these tips from virtual program administrators around the country who have developed vetting and application processes that lead to successful student outcomes:

1. Set a 2.0 GPA requirement

Virtual learning isn’t an “easy way out.” Setting a minimum GPA requirement for students to participate in virtual courses is an effective way of setting a baseline expectation of achievement and ensuring that students who apply are serious about their interest. You can even consider using a “sliding scale” approach and require that the more virtual courses students want to enroll in, the higher minimum GPA, they must maintain.

“We do have GPA requirements that we make the kids meet, and if they don’t meet that, they won’t get in, and it’s a 2.0. That helped us make sure all the kids in the program are serious about learning.”

– Vikki Childress, Onslow Virtual Academy Director, North Carolina

2. Facilitate a conversation between the student, guidance counselor, administration, and parents before making a decision

Keeping an open line of communication is absolutely critical to students’ success with virtual learning. So, before a student starts virtual courses, make sure that everyone who will be involved is on the same page. Challenge potential students to evaluate and identify their own academic habits, learning preferences, and goals. Make sure that program expectations are clarified, concerns are addressed, and a plan for success is in place.

“We have a full circle around these students . . . so then, any one of us could step up and help to resolve [situations that come up] or come together as a group. That piece is hugely important, and we don’t take it lightly. We make sure that we’re supporting the kiddos throughout the whole process.”

– Charlie Raymond, Alternative Learning Coordinator, Telstar Regional Middle/High School, Maine

3. Require multiple educators to sign off on enrolling a student

Different adults in students’ lives—both at school and at home—have different relationships with them and understand their strengths and weaknesses in unique ways. Requiring multiple individuals to sign off on a students’ participation should not be a roadblock or discouragement toward participation. Instead, it should be a natural extension of the conversation around this decision and a check to ensure that questions and concerns are fully addressed before the student starts working and that the plan in place is one that is truly tailored to the student.

“The counselor and the principal must approve that student and will vet them through various things that the student has done in the past, what the student needs for the future, and if they’re going to be successful.”

– Danny Plyler, Director of Instructional Technology and Virtual Learning, Nash-Rocky Mount School District, North Carolina

4. Make sure that students know why they want to take advantage of virtual learning options

Virtual learning is a big switch from the traditional classroom, and it’s important that students recognize this. They will be putting a lot of time into their virtual courses and will need to be both committed and self-directed. When students have a clear reason for why they want to participate in virtual options—whether to make time for activities outside of school, to take specific courses, or to counter true frustrations with the traditional classroom—this commitment to virtual courses tends to come naturally. Without a clear “why,” students are more likely to lose focus.

“All students who were interested had to meet with their principals and give a validated reason why they wanted to join . . . if they had a legitimate concern to why it wasn’t working for the,m during the school day, we made sure to allow them into the program, but what we were able to do is stop the kids who just thought it would be fun to work from home.”

– Eric Attinger, Virtual Academy Coordinator, Shikellamy School District, Pennsylvania

5. Offer a two-week “trial period” before officially enrolling students to make sure that virtual learning is a good fit

Sometimes, you just can’t know until you try it. Building in a trial or probationary period for new virtual students allows students, program administrators, and parents to see firsthand if the virtual learning format will be a good fit and to work through problems that arise. Plus, it can be a good way to take some of the pressure off of this big decision and keep the focus on long-term success.

“We try and monitor the progress, so if a student is not keeping up the pace in those first two weeks, we have conversations and with the parents as well.”

– Charlie Raymond, Alternative Learning Coordinator, Telstar Regional Middle/ High School, Maine

6. Pay attention to the student data

Past performance is never the be-all and end-all when it comes to predicting future outcomes. But, student data can offer some valuable insights to program administrators when a student wants to participate in virtual learning. Consider things like attendance, timeliness in submitting assignments, and past grade trends (e.g., in different subjects or with different class formats). These data points should not fully inform decisions about whether or not to approve a student for virtual learning, but they can help uncover important conversations to have and questions to address before a student gets started.

“Once [students] submit an initial interest form, then they will fill out an application to be entered in to the virtual academy. At that point, all that information comes to the district office where we can vet out where they are, what the needs are, and of course, what are the reasons they’re wanting or needing the virtual academy. . . . We try to take as much data as possible.”

– Danny Plyler, Director of Instructional Technology and Virtual Learning, Nash-Rocky Mount School District, North Carolina

Getting a virtual program up and running is a complicated process, but the options it can open up for students makes it well worth the time and effort. Looking for more tips to ensure a successful rollout for your program? Check out this blog post on Virtual Learning for Student Retention: 5 Lessons Learned in North Carolina’s Nash-Rocky Mount School District.

sarah.cornelius@edmentum.com's picture

Sarah Cornelius is a Senior Marketing Specialist at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.

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