Since the 1990's, with the advent of computers and the internet, long distance learning has been successfully available to students. Initial efforts used the postal service, the phonograph and radio to deliver instruction, which evolved to television in the 60's and 70's. The Internet became the modern carrier of long distance education in the mid-1990's, which gave birth to virtual, online schools. Today, there are many private and public, non-profit and for-profit institutions worldwide offering distance education courses from the most basic instruction through the highest levels of degree and doctoral programs.
Distance learning focuses on teaching methods and technology with the aim of delivering educational courses, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional learning setting such as a classroom.
The types of available technologies are divided into two groups: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous mode of delivery is where all participants are remotely "present" at the same time, resembling a traditional classroom using a live streaming venue. The Asynchronous learning is where participants access course materials on their own schedule and so is more flexible. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School uses this type of learning model with great success.
Virtual schools have the same goal as traditional, brick-and-mortar schools: to graduate students. Unlike traditional schools, virtual schools are Internet-based and available 24/7. Online learning enables student-centered teaching approaches. With personalized learning, education is a one-to-one ratio with instructors focusing on one student at a time. Every student has a "front row" seat. This allows for each student to learn at their own pace and the flexibility to take classes from anywhere, at any time.
Virtual schools are a complement as well as an alternative to traditional schools, not a replacement.
Nationwide, 45 states have online educational programs. Just two New England states offer an online education. In 1997, Florida established the first statewide, internet-based public high school. Today, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) enrolls more that 200,000 middle and high school students.
New Hampshire's Virtual Learning Academy Charter School is the region's first of its kind model. The Academy is free of charge to any middle or high school student who lives in the state of New Hampshire. Students from any other state can take courses from VLACS for a small fee.
Nationally, there are several associations that research, collect data, support, and create awareness about online learning.
About iNACOL: Since 2003, the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) has been working to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education and quality online learning experiences that prepare them for a lifetime of success. iNACOL supports access to high-quality online learning for all students. They believe every child deserves the opportunities that online learning can offer. In October 2008, NACOL expanded its reach globally and became the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). For more information, click here.
About Keeping Pace: Keeping Pace strives to add to the body of knowledge about online education policy and practice, and make recommendations for advances. They also serve as a reference source for information about programs and policies across the country, both for policymakers and practitioners who are new to online education, and for those who have extensive experience in the field. More information about the growth of virtual schools is available in the annual report titled Keeping pace with Online K-12 learning, click here.
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