Clicking on for class is catching on in schools and homes for students in grades kindergarten through senior year. “Our mottos says it best,” explains Pam Birtolo, chief officer of education transformation for Florida Virtual School. “Any time, any place, any path, any pace.”

The beauty of online, Birtolo explains, is that students can “reinvent” themselves. Kids who have been labeled in traditional settings can overcome any obstacles — be it socio-economic status or learning challenges. “Everyone is a Nike kid online,” she adds. Most importantly, students who want to soar ahead in a subject can, while personalized online instruction is offered to those who need more time to master a course.

In touch with technology

“Online gives [all] teachers and students access to content. It levels the playing field,” agrees Allison Powell, vice president for state and district services for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), a non-profit organization.  

Any fears that computers are teaching kids or that remote courses are impersonal are quelled by the experts. “Students and parents have relationships and talk directly to teachers,” Birtolo says.  

Ideally, experts say, kids don’t spend the entire time in front of a screen; rather they rotate from online sessions to traditional class time.   Powell further contends that technology paves the way for the human touch. “It empowers the teacher to be a teacher and to do what they signed up to do,” she explains.

“We are training kids for tomorrow. Everything they do now is on a computer. This is a life skill,”

Training for tomorrow

Another myth dispelled is that online courses are easier.  “Our courses are rigorous,” says Birtolo. However, she adds that the goal is mastery. “In our environment, if a student does get it right the first time, we reteach.”  Florida Virtual School has the stats to back up its system with its part-time students performing higher than state averages on all four state-created End of Course exams. Add to that, the school has about an 85 percent completion rate of courses.

It is estimated some two-thirds of the country’s school districts offer some kind of a blended online learning programs. And in Florida, the state mandates that all students — starting with this year’s freshman class — take an online course. “We are training kids for tomorrow. Everything they do now is on a computer. This is a life skill,” says Birtolo.

Head of the digital class                                                                 

While virtual learning can help in courses such as advanced placement topics in rural areas that don’t always have the courses, the variety of topics goes well beyond traditional core subjects. Florida Virtual School has 125 choices — including a new leadership program, physical education and even guitar — and some 400,000 enrolled students.

The fresh thinking of virtual, often blended with traditional classes, could be just what America needs to jump-start the educational system, some say. “America has been lagging in education for some time and that has a profound impact on skills for careers in the long-term,” explains Michael Horn, executive director of education for the Clayton Christensen Institute, a non-profit think tank.    

According to Horn, there are fewer failures, less boredom and a reduced dropout rate by melding technology and personal instruction because students “take control of their own path.”    

Concludes Birtolo, “Because of us, kids from rural schools can get into Ivy Leagues; on the flip side, others can graduate because they can remediate. There are as many reasons for taking a course online as there are students.”