Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment/Technology/Online Learning

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Online Learning and Virtual Schools

by Sherelle Coppedge

Learning Targets[edit | edit source]

-Reader will get a brief overview of virtual schools and online learning.

-Reader will be able to identify the characteristics of virtual schools.

-Reader will explore background of virtual schools.

-Reader will be able to distinguish between a virtual school and online learning.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

In our current "Age of Information" we consistently see and experience technological advances everyday. It has been no surprise to see the onset of these advances in the education of our children. With so many questions swirling around regarding technology in the classroom, we must first uncover the types of learning experienced. Let us begin with online learning and virtual schools. What does it all mean? Is there even a difference among them?

Online Learning[edit | edit source]

Online Learning has become a commonly used means of instruction. Online learning, also referred to as Electronic Learning, “is a type of education where the medium of instruction is computer technology” (Electronic Learning, 2008). Electronic Learning, or E-learning for short, is naturally suited to distance learning and flexible learning (Eletronic Learning). "Learning and teaching in an online environment are, in many ways, much like teaching and learning in any other formal educational context: learners' needs are assessed; content is negotiated or prescribed; learning activities are orchestrated; and learning is assessed" (Anderson, 2004). Institutions can use online learning to shape the learning ‘space’ and influence learner use. Some of the earliest critics recognized the need to create an online culture which replaces the face to face and other cultures in which we feel confident about speaking and contributing (Thorpe, p 11). This fairly new style of instruction can be found in most classrooms, from elementary to institutions of higher learning. This phenomenon has been growing exponentially since its onset. "By 2006, nearly 3.5 million students were participating in on-line learning at institutions of higher education" (Electronic Learning). These statistics change everyday, but they illustrate the impact online learning has on education in society.

Electronic learning began to surface around 1993. Graziadi, W.D described an online computer-delivered lecture, tutorial and assessment project using electronic Mail (more commonly known as Email), two VAX Notes (server computer) conferences and Gopher/Lynx (programming languages) together with several software programs that allowed students and instructor to create a Virtual Instructional Classroom Environment in Science(VICES) in Research, Education, Service & Teaching, or REST (Electronic Learning).

There has been much improvement in the way of online learning, but as technology advances, so must the topic of online learning. Progress will continue to be made. As we add to our ever-increasing knowledge, online learning will also advance.

Virtual Schools[edit | edit source]

"A virtual school or cyberschool describes an institution that teaches courses entirely or primarily through online methods. Though there are tens of thousands of commercial and non-accredited courses available online, the term "virtual school" is generally reserved for accredited schools that teach a full-time (or nearly full-time) course of instruction designed to lead to a degree. At the primary and secondary level, accreditation means that virtual schools tend to receive public funding; some publicly funded and private universities also provide accredited online degrees" (Virtual School). "Private secondary schools are also participaing in the virtual schools program, although most are intended for home-schoolers" (Clark, p 7).

"Many of today's virtual schools are descendants of correspondence schools. Sometimes referred to as "distance learning," correspondence schools offered students an alternative to the traditional brick and mortar meetings within a schoolhouse. These schools utilized the postal service for student-teacher interaction, or used two-way radio transmissions, sometimes with pre-recorded television broadcasts. Modern virtual schools provide similar alternatives to students with a more ubiquitous and, often, interactive approach" (Virtual School). Although, virtual schools have become more mainstream over years, there are still obstacles that must be met. "Access to appropriate technology is needed for participation in virtual schooling. According to the United States Department of Education (2001a), about 98 percent of U.S. schools had Internet access in 2000, compared to 35 percent in 1994. This rapid rise can be attributed in part to the Education rate (E-rate) program, a federal program to develop Internet infrastructure in schools and libraries. Established in 1996, by 2001 it had provided $5.8 billion in support to E-rate applicants" (Clark, p 28).

"The virtual school differ/contrasts from the traditional school through the physical media that links administrators, teachers and students and is an alliance of public distance learning schools. Many states in the United States have their own virtual school, and many of them have students numbering in the thousands" (Virtual School). Virtual schools are not unlike any other public school. There are standards, requirements, and curriculum guides that must be met. Electronic avenues are used to meet these guidelines. "They includes delivery methods such as independent or correspondence study, as well as videoconferencing and other instructional technologies" (Clark, p 7).

Though in cyberspace, virtual schools have also a community of support and influence. "Parents play an important role in determining K-12 student participation in distance and virtual learning. A Phi Delta Kappa poll of 1108 adults (Rose and Gallup, 2001) showed that 30 percent of respondents approved of allowing students to earn high school credits over the Internet without attending a regular school, compared with 41 percent who approved of homes schooling. The authors felt that this showed that the public “is less willing to embrace cyberspace instruction” (p. 42) than home schooling. However, those surveyed were not asked about students earning credits over the Internet while attending a regular school, which appears to be at least as common an arrangement in practice" (Clark, p 27).

Furthermore, the author stated "Virtual Schools now exist all around the world. Some of these virtual schools have been integrated into public schools (particularly in the United States), where students sit in computer labs and do their work online. In other situations, students can be completely home schooled, or they can take any combination of public/private/home schooling and online classes" (Virtual School).

Closing[edit | edit source]

Online learning obviously goes hand in hand with virtual schools. Virtual schools are becoming more popular in today's society and in turn, online learning will also become a more common mode of learning. Virtual schools are a new phenomenon that not only promote an individually-driven education, but also allow students to practice and apply computer-based skills in today's electronically-based world. Regardless of personal views and beliefs of online learning and virtual schools, society should be prepared for various modes of education to begin popping up in the virtual and online world. Online learning and virtual schools are becoming an important part of the future. Eventually, education could become completely electronic, eliminating the need for classrooms, learning materials, and teachers.

Review[edit | edit source]

1) In what year did Graziadi begin research for Online Learning?

a) 1977

b) 1985

c) 1993

d) 1997

2) What federal program supports virtual schools by encouraging Internet resources in schools?

a) Education Rate

b) Internet Plus

c) virtual Resources

d) Cyberspace Instruction

3) When Tommy goes to his school site, he views his teacher and lessons online. Is this online learning or virtual school?

a) Online Learning

b) Virtual School

c) Both a and b

d) Neither

4)Besides the student, who else is involved with virtual schools?

a) Educators

b) Parents

c) Friends

d) both a and b

   Answers: 1)c  2)a  3)c  4)d

References[edit | edit source]

Virtual School. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Curtis, D., David, & Lawson, J., Michael. (2001). Exploring Collaborative Online Learning. JALN. Volume 5, Issue 1. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Thorpe, Mary. (2002). Rethinking Learner Support: the challenge of collaborative online Learning. Open Learning. Volume 17, No. 2. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Electronic Learning. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Clark, Tom. (2001) Virtual Schools: Trends and Issues. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Fast facts about Online Learning. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from

Anderson, Terry. (2004). Teaching in an Online Learning Context. Retrieved October 5, 2008, from