Online education is a trend that’s here to stay. Even before the challenges of 2020, online school had captured the attention of families nationwide. According to the Digital Learning Collaborative, 32 states allow online schools to operate across districts, and 23 states run their own statewide virtual schools.*
Together these schools serve more than 375,000 full-time online students and deliver more than a million supplemental courses. Students also take part in an estimated 1.5 million credit recovery courses, which give students a second chance to pass a failed class and earn credit toward graduation.
Yet despite the growing popularity of online education, there’s quite a bit of confusion about how online school works. This list of five myths about online school—also known as virtual school, cyber school, or distance learning—will help demystify some of the most common misconceptions about this type of schooling:
Myth #1: Virtual public school is the same as homeschool.
Truth: Virtual school and homeschool are very different.
Virtual public schools deliver public education in the comfort and safety of the student’s home, via the internet. But other than the in-home location, homeschool is very different from online school, because homeschool parents must wear many hats. They must research, develop, or purchase curriculum; develop lesson plans; teach courses; help students; and grade student work.
In virtual school, families are part of a learning community, with the support and resources of public education. State-certified teachers include subject matter experts who use a rigorous online curriculum that correlates to state standards and provides virtual school students with a variety of innovative learning materials and top-notch online resources. Like all public schools, online public schools are tuition-free to students. Learn more about the difference between homeschool and online school.
Myth #2: Online schools are all about technology.
Truth: Online schools are about curriculum and instruction for students.
Many online schools have the basic technology to allow students to join a virtual classroom wherever there’s internet access. But the most reputable online schools also take the curriculum and instruction seriously for students—it’s not just about technology.
If you think all online schools are created equal, might be time to do some homework. Look for an online school with a track record of delivering student academic achievement and high levels of parent and student satisfaction. Other key quality benchmarks of an online public school include: accreditation from Cognia, formerly called AdvancED; full-time, certified, and highly qualified teachers; state-of-the-art technology resources; and community events, extracurricular clubs and activities, and field trips for students.
Myth #3: Virtual school is essentially “teacher-less.”
Truth: Certified teachers do the teaching.
Not only are online school teachers heavily involved in online courses, but many report that they know their students better online than in a traditional classroom setting. They are specially trained in the nuances of working effectively in a virtual school classroom and can pay close attention to tailoring instruction to match students’ needs and learning styles.
Students who attend an online public school learn at home under the guidance of a certified teacher. Parent involvement is also essential! A parent or other trusted adult has the opportunity to serve as a Learning Coach and may help the child with day-to-day learning activities as needed. In the best virtual schools, the teacher works directly with both the student and Learning Coach to develop an individual, personalized learning plan; provide instruction; and grade assignments.
Myth #4: Online school students spend all their time in front of a computer.
Truth: Students use textbooks, pencils, microscopes, and interactive curricula.
In the top online schools, the computer is a tool for teachers and parents to manage and track assignments, communicate (along with the phone), and deliver interactive curricular materials. Distance learning students complete some assignments “unplugged,” and depending on their age and what materials are provided in their home state, they may spend time reading texts, using workbooks, reading library books, and doing hands-on science experiments—just like they would in a traditional school.
Myth #5: Online schooling limits quality social interactions for kids.
Truth: Students regularly socialize and interact with peers.
The reality is that patterns of socialization for distance learning students aren’t so different from those in a traditional school. Online school students often have opportunities to interact with each other. Just like all kids, they choose to IM, text, talk to each other on the phone, go on field trips, and also socialize with adults in their schools, at home, and in the community. Many students also find that the flexibility of online public school makes it possible to be involved in outside extracurricular activities, volunteer, or pursue their athletic or creative talents and other interests.
There are many advantages your student can gain in online school. Learn more —and discover how experienced parents bust the top five myths about online school.
*Figures from Digital Learning Collaborative’s Snapshot 2020 report.