Virtual learning doesn’t conform to those constraints. Students can log in and complete work on their own schedules. They are able to take classes they may never have had access to before. One educator can now teach classes in multiple high schools using livestreams, recorded lectures and online lessons. This broadens a student’s access to Advanced Placement classes, language classes, electives and more.
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The Virtues of Virtual Learning for Post-Pandemic Classrooms
Many advancements have resulted from the time schools spent educating online. Schools worked to push out one-to-one programs, and teachers experienced increased levels of professional growth through training and through innovating on the fly.
Not only are educators learning how to operate new programs and technologies, but the students are improving their digital skills as well.
“Kids know how to log in, they know how to open multiple windows and applications,” Ryan says. “They are getting really good at typing out their ideas. I think you’re going to see that some of their reading and writing skills have been enhanced because there’s a big dependence on that in online environments.”
Students who may not have had access to this level of educational technology in their schools prior to the pandemic are now learning how to work on newly provided devices. Federal funding and other programs have helped get this equipment to schools so that students can be online.
DISCOVER: A push for equity drives computer science education at Aberdeen High.
For all the changes that virtual and hybrid learning have seen, Ryan still thinks this is just the beginning of where virtual learning can go. “When they first went to a radio, the sound of music was not as great through the radio as it was going to a live concert, but it was better than nothing at all,” he says. “I think that as we develop the skills and resources, and people develop the digital content and ways to engage kids, we’re actually going to see online learning get better and better and better.”
What Does the Future Hold for Virtual Learning?
Of the district leaders surveyed by RAND, many of those choosing to adopt virtual learning cited a demand from parents and students for the opportunity.
Across the country, fully online schools are seeing an increase in enrollment. The Tennessee Connections Academy, which began offering online learning for Tennessee K–12 students in 2019, now supports more than 3,000 students, according to WJHL, a local news station in the area. When the academy opened, it had just 1,300 students enrolled.
Neria Sebastien, an elementary teacher for Alpha Omega Academy, a national online school based in Iowa, also notes a rise in enrollment. “Due to COVID-19, there are a lot of students who have never experienced online before whose parents decided to put them in an online school,” he says.
Given the demand, districts that are able to continue offering online learning in some capacity should consider doing so. Santa Fe Public Schools will continue offering virtual classes for students who want that option.
“There’s going to be a group of families saying, ‘Regardless of what happens with illnesses or viruses, I want my kid to stay home another year,’” Ryan says. “If we don’t offer that, they’ll go somewhere else.”