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young student participating in a virtual academy at home

Over the last few years, spurred by evolving educational needs, a specialized academic option is gaining prevalence—the virtual academy. In this article, we’ll explore what a virtual academy is, address concerns and misconceptions around this offering, and discuss a few reasons to launch a virtual academy.

What is a virtual academy?

Virtual academies, also known as online academies or virtual schools, are educational institutions that offer courses and programs entirely or primarily through online platforms by leveraging digital technologies to deliver educational content, facilitate communication between instructors and students, and provide a virtual learning space.

The virtual academy has taken on a variety of forms since its initial inception back in 1997. Florida Virtual Schools used telephones to deliver the first iteration of this teaching methodology. This option commonly served niche populations such as student-athletes, performers, and other K-12 age students who traveled frequently and struggled to operate effectively in traditional school settings.

As technology has evolved in the education space, so has the prevalence of virtual academies. Online classroom platforms have developed into robust, highly sophisticated means by which virtual learning can occur. Because of this, virtual academies have begun serving additional populations, including students with social anxiety and attention disorders, as well as highly independent students. Remote learning has also benefited many students of color, who can worry less about conscious and unconscious bias from administrators, educators, and fellow classmates.

Reasons to consider launching a virtual academy

There are a variety of benefits that virtual academies can provide students, educators, and even the school districts that offer them.

Flexible options for students and families

There’s a reason traveling families of performers and athletes have utilized virtual academies for so long. The flexibility allows learners and their families to engage in experiences that more rigid, traditional classroom setups can’t accommodate. This can also benefit nontraditional family alignments where a child has parents living in separate states (or even countries) and can provide consistency in education, which is vital.

Improved access

Improved access can help learners on two separate fronts. From a physical standpoint, virtual academies that leverage online classroom platforms can provide academic access to students in rural or remote areas who would otherwise have fewer educational options. From a learning standpoint, improved access can also mean opening the metaphorical doorway to otherwise inaccessible courses. This could mean, for many, the ability to take specialty or advanced courses; however, with the current teacher shortage, this could also mean access to foundational classes taught by qualified educators.

New options for educators

Virtual academies can attract qualified, highly sought-after educators to your school district. Rather than trying to spread a limited budget to multiple math teachers at each of your schools, you could pool your resources to hire—and retain—the most qualified candidate and then use an online classroom platform to put that educator in front of every student in your district. The use of virtual classroom technology doesn’t have to stop there—that same strategy can be used to provide top-notch professional development for your educators, as well.

Closing equity gaps in school districts

Virtual academies can also help address equity issues within a school district. Not only can learning conditions be improved by leveraging the power of online classroom platforms, but that same technology can serve as an effective host to various learning styles and special needs that are presented by a school district’s student populations.

Preparing students for the future

In addition to all the practical ways a virtual academy can aid students, educators, and school districts, another essential element can’t be ignored. Not only is technology disrupting education, but it’s also reconfiguring every business industry’s landscape, as well. Students adept at virtual learning platforms are also improving their digital literacy and preparing for an almost-inevitable virtual or hybrid working environment, which they’ll most likely experience at some point in their professional careers.

Concerns and misconceptions

While the benefits of a virtual academy are apparent, many of these particular points have only come about recently due to advancements in the technology these offerings rely on. Because of this, there are a few concerns and misconceptions surrounding virtual academies based on dated experiences, which are important to dispel.

Subpar quality of learning

In its infancy, virtual learning environments were seen as a step down from in-person classroom experiences. However, best-in-class online classroom platforms now possess a bevy of features that ensure engagement, best practices-informed course structure, and other vital elements of a successful learning environment are immediately available. In fact, top-end virtual classrooms even offer analytical insights that in-classroom experiences can’t, including talk time metrics, self-paced videos, attendance tracking, and soon-to-arrive AI-produced study sheets.

Overwhelming burden of administrative, instructional, and community needs

Another concern that school districts have previously held has been the burden of starting up and maintaining their virtual academy experience. However, like the online classroom platforms, the reality is that best-in-class partners have reduced the school district lift tremendously, making startup and maintenance cost-effective, user-friendly, and administration-friendly.

An innovative option forward

Virtual academies are no longer relegated to serving niche populations. Thanks, in large part, to the technological advancements of the online classroom platforms they operate on, virtual academies are an elegant solution to many of the most profound issues facing school districts and families today, including teacher shortages, diversity of course offerings, access to quality education, and flexibility for life’s circumstances.

Are you ready to explore how Class’s online classroom platform can operate as the backbone of your virtual academy? Talk with a Class team member today, and let’s continue improving the quality and access of education for all.

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About Shelby
Shelby Jones is the K-12 Sales Director at Class. She’s held market-facing positions at leading EdTech companies nationally, and consults educators in their adoption of SaaS solutions for all departments. She’s passionate about start-ups, education, and technology.