Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 13/13.4.2

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Online Learning and Virtual Schools

By the end of the article students should be able to:
Define online or virtual schools
Identify advantages of online education
Identify disadvantages of online education

Virtual learning is the newest form of education in America. The Virtual High School, one of the first pre-college level virtual schools, was started in the state of Massachusetts back in 1996. Started by the Hudson Public School System, this schools system currently services over 800 students in 400 schools spanning over 14 other states.


As technology improves, school districts have integrated it into their curriculum. Problems such as bandwidth, available software, and shortages in technical support staff have diminished as the individual states have bought into this new form of learning. One recent report claims that half of courses in Grades 9 to 12 will be delivered online by 2019 (Hoover Institute).

Virtual Schools are online learning centers that allow students from varied backgrounds to enhance their learning. Nearly 2/3 of all states have some form of online learning technology. In Virginia the Virginia Virtual Advanced Placement School ( allows students to prepare for college as well as take AP courses on foreign language.
There are many different types of online opportunities throughout American school systems including online AP and foreign language courses, Algebra, web design, Photoshop, desktop publishing, and CAD (Computer Aided Drawing) among many others. The following link allows for further information for each states approach at online training.

Advantages of online learning

There are many advantages to online education. As fuel costs skyrocket, students can stay at home and learn allowing school districts to cut back on their bus routes. One of the main concerns for parents in at risk neighborhoods are gangs and bullying. With students studying online there is no peer pressure to wear the "right" clothes, join a gang, or be disruptive and threatening.

High achievers can progress throughout the curriculum without having to wait on the rest of the class to "catch up". Online learning also allows students to spend more time with family and friends and less time waiting at bus stops in the cold and rain.

Online learning can be either synchronous or asynchronous. The ability to return back to a lesson and set your own schedule is another advantage of the virtual classroom.

The state of Florida has been recognized as the #1 online experience. It serves more than 50,000 students across the US. Students from K-12, as well as adults have the opportunity to take more than 90 courses, including GED, honors, and advanced placement classes.

Disadvantages of online learning

There are without question some disadvantages to online learning. The student never gets to speak face to face with the instructor which inhibits mentoring. The students are primarily responsible for staying motivated and on task. Teachers cannot know if the student is watching a lecture while also watching TV and listening to their IPOD.

Also because students are not present, teachers cannot readily alter the method or approach of instruction, plumb for understanding, or try to further explain concepts by using new examples and illustrations which live-in person training allows.

The ability to socialize with peers is a major concern for online education. Students who do not interact with one another on a daily basis do not learn skills such as conflict management, compromise, or social awareness. Students who learn at home never get to interact with girls and boys of different ages, backgrounds, or cultures. This could lead students to develop unhealthy attitudes towards people who are not like them.

Some medical professionals are concerned that students that do not interact with one another will not build up resistance to viruses at an early age which may make their later introduction to these germs much more dangerous. Many families do not have the ability to purchase a computer with the technical requirements and networking necessary to participate in streaming video courses. Also some school districts require the students to purchase workbooks and textbooks.

Some subject matter just cannot be adequately taught in an online format. Music, art and many of the sciences cannot be fairly represented. Some courses offer online simulations where normally a student would do lab work. This is not a suitable substitution.

The key points of emphasis for future research should be to figure out which programs are successful, why they are successful, and how that success can be duplicated.

What is the future of online learning?

As technology continues to be developed children will continue to be comfortable using the latest tools in education. Teachers and school divisions must use the most effective means of instruction to help the students succeed. Instructors will need to remain technologically savvy and eager to implement these new methods into their training curriculum.
Many educators are now calling for universal standards for online education. To date there is no organizational association or national bureau that has effectively produced the essential principles necessary for online education to be effective. Many are quite concerned that some children will be left behind in the new digital wave of instruction. As these and other decisions are made about virtual schools, teacher will need to remain flexible and willing to learn and incorporate new technological advances into their teaching philosophy.

Multiple Choice[edit]

1. What are one of the disadvantages of online learning?

  A. It is very easy for everyone.
  B. It can be costly for the students.
  C. It often allows advanced students to progress at their own pace.
  D. Students get plenty of face time with their instructors.

2. What is an advantage of online learning?

  A. Students can skip all formal school.
  B. Students form close bonds with individuals of other cultures.
  C. Students can often access the information as their schedule permits.
  D. Students get free books, laptops and internet connection provided by the state.

3. Which student would not be a good candidate for online learning?

  A. A student that wants to test out of some gen-ed college classes.
  B. A student that has a problem with being bullied in the neighborhood and school.
  C. A student that has trouble focusing on goals and staying on task.
  D. A student that has medical issues and frequently misses school days.

4. Billy Smith is considering taking an online course. Which of these attributes and abilities should Billy posses in order to be reasonably successful in a virtual school?

  A. He should be self-motivated and able to stay on task with activities and lessons.
  B. He should have access to school via a car or bus route.
  C. He should have a working knowledge of Fortran and other computer languages.
  D. He should live close enough to the school district for frequent visits from the teacher.


1) B. 2) C. 3) C. 4) C.


  • Michael S. Holstead, Terry E. Spradlin, and Jonathan A. Plucker. (2008). Promises and Pitfalls of Virtual Education

in the United States and Indiana. Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, 6(6), 8-13.

  • Cavanaugh, C (2007) What works in K-12 online learning. Eugene, Or: International Society for Technology in Education.
  • Bush, M. (2008). Education Commission of the States' High School Database. Retrieved February 21, 2009 from
  • Melnick, B. (2002). Virtual Schools: The Changing Face of Education? The English Journal, 91(5) pp. 85–88
  • Koszoru, J. (2005). When a High School Goes to College. The English Journal, 94(6) pp. 25–30

ECI 301 Joe Price [User page:]

Reader ResponseTbandy001 (talk) 04:10, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

I agree with all the disadvantages you said about online schooling but the biggest concern that I think onlince schooling would have is cheating. How would the instructor ever know if the student is cheating. They say no one learns if you cheat and if the students are cheating then they won't fully understand the material the is to be understood. I do believe in the future that technology is going to be so advanced that students probably won't have to physically go to school. I didn't know it was so popular until I was doing my observation and the teachers were tellin me about how it works. I think the most effective way to teach is inside a classroom personally. The article was very interesting because I know a lot of people don't know how big the online classstroom courses are, I was interested in what you had to say about the topic.