Distance Learning Versus Virtual School

With the COVID-19 global pandemic shutting down a majority of the schools in March of this year, parents and students were exposed to e-learning terminology that they had never or vaguely heard of.  In many cases, even individuals in the education field would use terms interchangeably and sometimes incorrectly.  This has caused much confusion among parents and students, as well as negative connotations due to poor experiences over the last 4 months.  With the recent uptick in new cases it seems as though what many had assumed would only be a temporary inconvenience will now become more of a way of life as we move into the new school year.  By everyone having a clear understanding of the difference between the terms students and parents will be able to make more informed decisions on their student’s education plans.

So, what is distance learning?  According to the National Education Association, distance education is “a form of education in which courses are delivered via the Internet without face-to-face interaction between student and teacher (National Education Association, 2019).”   This means the teacher is hosting their classroom via the Internet rather than in a physical setting.  The advantages of distance learning is that the teacher is able to follow the curriculum map that they have used in the past and is approved by the local and state education office.  Additionally, any materials that the teacher can convert to an online platform can be utilized by the faculty for the student’s usage.  A third advantage is that if the classroom where to move back to a traditional setting the students and teacher would all be in the same page as far as content progression.  The disadvantage of this is that most teachers were not trained for online and that many of their materials are not designed to be dispersed online.  On top of that most distance learning systems have a difficult time monitoring student engagement.  When combining that with the previous statement, it is easy to see why most students were unengaged and unmotivated to complete their learning in the previous school year.  The teachers and schools were not to be blamed for this because setting up online curriculum takes time from both a content standpoint as well as a design standpoint.  This leads to the million-dollar question; how well prepared are the schools now given the summer break?

Well we have now learned about distance learning so how could virtual school be any different?  In many ways just as the brick and mortar schools specialize in face-to-face instruction, virtual schools specialize in online learning.  Virtual schools have curriculum and teachers that are designed to service and engage students from a distance.  The teachers have been trained to engage students in various manners such as phone calls, video conference, and text messaging/live chat.  They feel comfortable teaching students remotely and have integrated special tools to help engage the students, so they feel comfortable as well in a distance environment.  The curriculum is built to be viewed on all devices and is designed with all learning styles in mind.  The main disadvantage of virtual school is that generally is not designed to follow any particular curriculum map, so if a student were to transfer during the school year a student would might be lost on the concepts they are covering in the course.  At Citizens’ High School we heard from our students concerns and designed our courses to be completed on average in 16 weeks.  This allows a student the ability to complete a course before transferring to another school.

I hope this blog has helped cleared up some of the confusion surrounding the difference between distance learning and online schools.  So, this brings us to the next question that a parent might ask; which should I choose?  Well, I can’t answer that, but I can give you five things to consider when making your decision.

  1. When the schools reopen do you immediately plan to send your student back to school?
  2. How much time do you as parents have to spend working with your student?
  3. How much engagement will be involved with your school’s distance education plan?
  4. What is your student(s) grade level and how much progress monitoring is required?
  5. What kind of virtual school options do you have and what features do they offer?

I wish I had straight forward answers for questions 1 through 4, however those vary greatly from state to state and even from home to home.  I can though tell you for number five, one virtual school you should consider is Citizens High School.  It has a large assortment of courses for students to chose from, the courses can be done from a smartphone or computer, they use only online trained teachers, and the students focus on just two courses at a time with each course averaging about 16 weeks in length.  I hope this has cleared up any confusion, and check back at www.citzenshighschool.com for more information and blog posts.

National Education Association. (2019). Distance Education. Retrieved from National Education Association: http://www.nea.org/home/34765.htm

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