When exploring virtual classrooms, it’s often around the best practices for planning and implementing a virtual program; however, an equally important area to delve into is why virtual and hybrid learning models are seeing such success and demand. In addition to researching and implementing best practices—as well as undertaking the pedagogical shifts that are necessary to accommodate online learning—having a deeper understanding of why virtual classrooms are so important can help empower the resources necessary to enable those best practices in the first place.
We convened a group of virtual K-12 learning experts to discuss the current state of online classrooms, staffing a K-12 online class, and the future of virtual learning. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways.
Implementing a virtual program can prepare students for the future
When computers first began entering individual classrooms, some of the skillsets acquired, including keyboard typing speed and word processor navigation, weren’t understood to be as necessary as they have become in day-to-day professional life. While in-person classroom learning is important and imprints valuable skills, students who take part in virtual learning environments are absorbing skills that will prove vital in many professional settings in the future. This isn’t to say that acceptance of this new reality is easy for all involved.
Roxie Mitchell, Program Coordinator at Colorado Classrooms LIVE, lays out why some hesitancy exists, as well as the need to overcome it, “We know that students are going to go out of K-12 school, and they’re going to go into a workforce, and they’re going to go into post-secondary opportunities that deal with virtual learning. And, what we’re finding as we’re talking to brick-and-mortar schools across Colorado is there was kind of a strong pullback after the pandemic where people kind of freaked out in K-12 and said, because that was an emergency and it got forced and it wasn’t done really well, they’re really freaked out by virtual learning. And so, they’ve sent their kids back…to in-person learning thinking that that’s the best and only way of learning. But, we know that because these students are going to be going into a workforce and into higher ed where virtual learning is going to be an option, there’s got to be a happy medium there where we are still exposing kids in K-12 brick-and-mortar schools to some of these ways of learning.”
Mitchell goes on to explain, “Part of learning is to learn what works for you and doesn’t work for you. We want students to be prepared with some of these tools so that, as they are making decisions about their career, as they’re making decisions about how they want to learn through post-secondary, that they’ve had some of these experiences as K-12 students. And that’s what our program is trying to do is to mix those best parts of in-person learning while also bringing in some of the live virtual learning so that students can be exposed to these ways of learning.”
Online learning can offer innovative solutions to old obstacles
In addition to preparing students for a future that makes use of virtual platforms and environments, virtual learning is also providing unique answers to present-day K-12 problems.
Tackling chronic absenteeism
Student absenteeism has become such an impactful issue in education that the White House recently released a report addressing the issue, noting “the number of public school students who are chronically absent—meaning they miss at least 10 percent of days in a school year, whether excused or unexcused—has nearly doubled, from about 15 percent in the 2018-2019 school year to around 30 percent in 2021-2022.”
Virtual classroom-offering institutions have arisen as a means for eliminating many of those absences. In fact, Terri Grey, Virtual Principal for New York City’s Department of Education, states, “Last year, our attendance rate was 97%, and it was one of the 14th highest in New York City for high schools. And so, we know that students who traditionally were unable to attend school regularly because of medical reasons…had great success attending online on a regular basis.”
Considering and supporting individual needs
Alongside chronic absenteeism, many school districts are impacted by the need to create education plans for students with individualized needs. In the 2019-20 school year, 14% of all public school students received special education services under IDEA, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
That need only skyrocketed during the pandemic and after. Kyle Farner, Assistant Principal for 27J Online Academy, adds, “Families were really begging for flexible solutions that our district didn’t offer at the time. And so, we’re doing everything we can—virtually, dual enrollment-wise—to build that flexibility with a series of tools.”
Virtual programs as a form of intervention
Virtual classrooms can sometimes step in and present creative solutions in circumstances where in-person learning is no longer a viable option. While this area is often highlighted by special needs and accessibility-based circumstances—which are abundant—another less-seen area of success exists around opportunities for intervention.
Farner provides an experience unique to his K-12 school district, “We call [our success coaches] our intervention team. We had never had a student expelled from our district before that then went on to graduate high school. And last year, we graduated six kids that were expelled from other schools. So that just kind of gives you an idea of the program that we’ve managed to build for students that are really struggling in the in-person environment that they can succeed here.”
The demand for live, online learning is increasing
Virtual learning only continues to increase in popularity among learners, and even K-12 is seeing this demand intensify. Farner expounds on this, noting his vision for K-12’s future is one where “the opportunities for virtual learning are endless. We have done our best to create a plethora of solutions for kids. I hope that in three to five years, we have a menu of options that’s literally limitless…whatever situation a kid comes to us with, we have a solution for them…We continue to find that there are a lot of families that just don’t want the traditional industrial model of education anymore…We have families that need a better and more flexible solution.”
Increased flexibility, preparation for future careers, and innovative solutions to current-day K-12 issues are only the tip of the iceberg for online learning platforms.
Interested in discovering how your school district can diversify its offerings and provide learners with next-level engagement and student success? Reach out to a member of Class today! Want to check out the entire webinar for additional insights from our panelists? Find the entire recording here.