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.”
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.