Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Think Virtual Schools

Think Virtual Schools - A Global Expansion

Even though the majority of information presented here concerns virtual schools in the United States, the major takeaway from this post is that there’s a growing amount information, research, and support concerning the establishment of a virtual school. With an expected annual growth of e-learning in North America and Western Europe being less that 6%, other areas of the world such as Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America are anticipating an annual increase of over 14% (DoceboE-Learning Market Trends and Forecast, 2014-2016). This relatively rapid expansion of e-learning opportunities beyond those countries that have historically led in virtual school development indicates that an opportunity may exist for the global expansion of virtual schools. 


Made possible by the public availability of the World Wide Web in 1991, the digital facilitation of web-based education was born, giving eventual rise to online learning and virtual schools. Within three years, an education event known as the Virtual Summer School (VSS) for Open University was held and it hosted a web-based undergraduate psychology course. The earliest recognized web-based high school curriculum was made available through CALCampus, which began its operations in 1994-1995. Shortly thereafter the first virtual school, titled Virtual High School, was launched in 1996 and is still in operation today. In 1997, Florida established the first statewide web-based virtual public high school (Florida Virtual School), which recently served an estimated 240,000 students in the 2012-2013 school year (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2013).

Clark (2001) defined a virtual high school as “a state approved and/or regionally accredited school that offers secondary credit courses through distance learning methods that include Internet-based delivery” (p. i). Extending the definition beyond the high school level, United States virtual schools now offer curriculum, programs, and services for all K-12 grades. The operation of these virtual schools does not take place within a traditional “brick and mortar” educational facility, but rather through electronically connected students, teachers, administrators, parents and communities who are separated by geographic location and/or time. Clark (2001) identified six types of virtual schools based upon to the founding organization: university-based, state-sanctioned, consortium, local education agency, charter school, and private school. A seventh type, for-profit providers, has now been added.


Since their debut in the late 1990s, virtual schools have had notable increases in terms of the number of schools and their course enrollments. For example, according to Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, and Rapp (2013), state-led virtual schools existed in 26 states in the 2012-2013 school year and had 740,000 course enrollments. Based upon Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin, and Rapp’s previous annual course enrollment numbers, this is an increase of over 19% compared to the 2011-2012 school year, over 38% compared to the 2010-2011 school year, over 64% compared to the 2009-2010 school year, and over 131% compared to the 2008-2009 school year. For the 2007-2008 academic year, Picciano and Seaman (2009) estimated over one million K-12 students used an online course, which was a 47% increase over the estimate was made two years prior. Based upon current rates, Mincberg (2010) projects that it is possible by 2020 for 50% of all high school classes to be delivered online.

The need to improve learning outcomes and to address educational standards and policy have been important motivators in the development of virtual schools. An early catalyst for virtual schools was that they offered an array of courses and related services that otherwise would not be available to students or that would not fit into the usual school or student schedule (Patrick, 2007; Russell, 2004). At the national level, the expansion of virtual schools has been encouraged by the advent of two policies, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the 2004 National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) (Archambault, Crippen, & Lukemeyer, 2007). Since then other proclamations concerning U.S. education such as the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan and the Common Core State Standards have continued to motivate the growth and acceptance of virtual schools (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2011). Currently, most virtual schools offer courses that supplement traditional school offerings, with learners being accounted for as members of their home school rather than the virtual school.

virtual school

Globally, each country that is developing or is considering the development of a virtual school will have its own needs, rationale, and standards. Reviewing what’s been done previously in creating virtual schools, both the failures and successes, is a recommended exercise in planning for a virtual school or in improving existing operations. This is a rapidly evolving field that is being impacted by ongoing practice and a growing body of research.

Reflection Point – “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


Archambault, L. & Crippen, K. (2009). K-12 distance educators at work: Who’s teaching online across the United States. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41, 363–391.
Archambault, L., Crippen, K., & Lukemeyer, A. (2007). The impact of U.S. national and state level policy on the nature and scope of k-12 virtual schooling. Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007, 2185-2193.
Barbour, M. K. (2010). Researching K-12 online learning: What do we know and what should we examine. Distance Learning, 7(2), 6–12.
Clark, T. (2000). Virtual high schools, state of the states: A study of virtual high school planning and operation in the United States.
Mincberg, C. (2010). Is online learning a solution in search of a problem?
Patrick, S. T. (2007). Preface. In J. Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (pp. i4-i5).
Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 online learning: A 2008 follow-up of the survey of U.S. school district administrators.
Russell, G. (2004). Virtual schools: A critical view. In C. Cavanaugh (Ed.), Development and management of virtual schools: Issues and trends (pp. 1-25). Hershey, PA. IGI Global.
           Saba, F. (2005). Critical issues in distance education: A report from the United States. Distance Education 2, 255-272.
Searson, M. Jones, W. M., & Wold, K. (2011). Editorial: Reimagining schools: The potential of virtual education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42, 363-371.
Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2011). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of policy and practice.
Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2013). Keeping pace with K-12 online & blended learning: An annual review of policy and practice.