Why the Benefits of Virtual Learning Are Keeping Some Students Online for Good
An unexpected—and positive—adaptation that many school districts have made is to create a permanent virtual learning option that keeps a wider range of students engaged and brings the benefits of virtual learning to the forefront.
The quick pivot that school districts had to make to provide online learning addressed an immediate problem in the spring of 2020, but understandably, educators and parents were concerned about how students would fare without in-person learning.
As the initial learning curve evened out and districts increased their investments in digital curriculum, they discovered that many students were not just adapting to a virtual learning environment, they were excelling in it.
Benefits of Virtual Learning
Many families who saw that their students were thriving with remote learning began asking school districts to expand their online offerings, and by Fall 2021, 76 percent of states approved virtual learning schools, and 25 percent of school districts surveyed by The RAND Corporation had a virtual school option in place—a nine-fold increase over 2020.
What experiences changed the beliefs and opinions that many parents had about virtual learning? They—and their students—point to three main benefits that have led them to embrace online learning:
Because it’s highly adaptable, the benefits of virtual learning can oftentimes better meet students where they are academically, emotionally, and socially. Students have the ability to learn on their own schedule as well as accelerate or slow down their pace with this more individualized approach.
For example, online classes can limit sensory overload for neurodivergent children, let them re-watch lessons if needed, and provide opportunities for deep dives into their evolving interests. Also, when schedules can be flexed to fit into the time of day when students are most productive, many of them discover they can better focus on their education and extracurricular activities.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed high school students about what they wished was different about attending school. They learned that universal complaints from students were class disruptions and wasted time. Many said they could learn twice as much in half the time if learning was more individualized.
Online students have found that virtual classes maximize their learning time by condensing an eight-hour school day into three or four hours. “You just cut out so much time walking between classes, eliminating interruptions, and waiting for class to start,” explained one student to Apex Learning. “The fact that you can really put your head down and get your work done is huge.”
3. Self-Directed Learning
Some school districts discovered that many of their older students were taking more challenging courses online during the pandemic than they did in person. The autonomy and individualization of virtual learning was key to their motivation; when students have a wide breadth of engaging curriculum to explore, they’re more driven to learn, which improves their comprehension and academic success.
In addition, virtual learning helps students build critical skills necessary to seamlessly adjust to the demands of college, including time management, self-discipline, and accountability. One student-athlete who made the shift to online learning explained it this way: “You have to be motivated, and you have to keep track of what assignments you completed and what you still need to do. That’s up to you.”
Types of Students That Benefit from Virtual Learning
1. Students who want more course options
This generation of students is all about options, but tight budgets, enrollment concerns, and staffing shortages make offering the full breadth of courses that students want a challenge, especially in small districts. Virtual courses can be a cost-effective solution to offer your students more core and elective subjects—such as precalculus, world history, digital photography, and psychology—without putting a strain on resources. Plus, expanding your course catalog can help students stay engaged in learning, explore subjects they are passionate about, and enter postsecondary education or the workforce with an advantage.
2. Students in need of credit recovery
Whether it’s because the classroom environment isn’t working for them, or events outside the classroom are getting in the way of learning, it’s inevitable that some students fall behind. In these situations, catching up quickly is key. Virtual courses can provide an alternative that offers more flexibility, supports personalized learning, and allows for expedited credit recovery to help these students experience academic success and get back on track to graduate with their cohort.
3. Students who are career-focused
Some students know exactly what they want to do with their careers—and the traditional classroom may not always feel like the most productive use of time to get there. Career and technical education courses can keep students engaged by helping them explore career options and make critical connections between academics and the real world. Plus, they’ll gain valuable knowledge and skills in high-demand career fields to earn industry-recognized credentials like the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate, CompTIA A+ IT certification, and Prometric Certified Professional Food Manager certification while working toward their high school diploma.
4. Students who are working at an accelerated pace
When students are working above grade level, they can easily become disengaged and frustrated in the classroom. Online schools can offer students a broad range of challenging, accelerated virtual courses that your school or district might not have the resources to provide, such as Advanced Placement® preparatory courses, higher level math and science, and electives specific to their postsecondary goals. Plus, being able to progress through material at their own pace can keep these bright students engaged and excited about learning.
5. Students who have scheduling conflicts
In addition to academics, many students are also juggling family responsibilities, jobs, and involvement in sports or performing arts. Students care deeply about these commitments and learn a lot from them. But, they can make scheduling around the traditional school day a challenge. Flexible virtual courses can help accommodate students in need of a non-standard schedule due to demanding work or extra-curricular commitments, those who travel frequently with their families, or students who need a specific course to meet graduation requirements that doesn’t fit in their school-day schedule.
6. Students who are hospital or homebound
Virtual courses can be a huge benefit for any student who is on a temporary or extended leave from school, is in the hospital, or is homebound. With so many course options, you can provide these students with a full schedule of courses and teacher support in a flexible format that allows them to keep up with their cohorts and stay on track for graduation.
7. Elementary students whose family wants to play a bigger role
Some parents recognize early on that their young students will benefit from an approach that is a little different from the traditional classroom. Virtual courses can be a great fit for elementary students when parents are enthusiastic about playing a hands-on role in facilitating a highly personalized academic journey.
With the proven benefits of virtual learning that many students find, school districts are finding ways to provide flexible options that accommodate a range of learning styles. EdOptions Academy partners with schools and districts to offer fully-accredited virtual courses taught by highly-qualified teachers. Learn more about how EdOptions Academy can help provide a truly personalized learning experience for every student and retain student enrollment.