Report: Virtual Learning Expands Educational Opportunities

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Virtual learning is not for all students. But for many, according to a new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), it can provide opportunities and access that might otherwise be unavailable, and it's therefore a critical component in the educational mix.

"All students should be able to have continuous access to the high quality curriculum from the classroom to the family room to the community center--regardless of socioeconomic or geographic barriers," according to the report, which was released Thursday. "Virtual learning is a tool that can do just this. Virtual learning provides each student the promise of access to age- and ability-appropriate curriculum, rich and extensive resources and accurate and up-to-date assessments regardless of location, economic situation or time."

"Virtual learning also has the potential to engage students in ways that traditional learning does not. In the 21st Century, students utilize technology on a daily basis and expect to use it in the learning environment," said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of SETDA, in a statement released to coincide with the report.

The report, "Learning Virtually: Expanding Opportunities" (the fifth and final installment in SETDA's Class of 2020: Action Plan for Education series), focuses on a number of programs that have emerged in recent years that have succeeded in bringing new opportunities to students who might otherwise miss out owing to geographic or economic limitations, such as being stuck in a district that does not offer college preparatory courses or having to work to may hours in a week to be able to make a go of a traditional learning environment.

The report also highlights some of the roadblocks in the way of expanded virtual learning opportunities. These include:

  • Funding issues;
  • Problems with licensure and certifications;
  • Teacher preparation for teaching online;
  • Infrastructure limitations; and
  • Oversight.

Based on these issues, the report concludes with several recommendations, including a call for states to recognize teacher licenses and certifications from other states; providing teacher professional development to prepare instructors for virtual learning environments; providing resources for students so that they can access virtual learning environments; and providing "oversight and transparency" to help assure the general public that virtual learning is not sub-standard and that it provides "a rigorous, viable learning option for all our students."

The report also recommends that states and districts conduct research to identify best practices for online learning and to develop "innovative funding models that meet the needs of both traditional schools and virtual schools."

Further information on this topic, including a downloadable copy of the complete report, can be found on SETDA's site here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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