Virtual schooling

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Main Page - Educational approaches - Virtual schooling

Related terms

e-learning, Distance education


Virtual schooling allows students to take structured courses at geographically separated locations from their teachers and classmates. This definition overlaps with other terms such as e-learning and distance education. In the United States, virtual schooling is commonly associated with online middle or high school courses but is not limited to only web-based instruction. Other forms of technologies, such as two-way audio-video interactive systems (see Iowa Communications Network, visited 27-July-05) and voice and data conferencing, are used to support the instructional process.

The first Virtual High School (1998-2005a) in the United States was created in 1996 by the Concord Consortium (2005) and has since turned into a nonprofit organization. State initiatives have also started their own virtual schools, e.g. Kentucky Virtual High School (2005), Illinois Virtual High School (2005), Florida Virtual School (2004) and many others. Susan Patrick, director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology estimates between “40,000 to 50,000 students in 37 states are participating in online courses through approximately 2,400 publicly funded, Internet-based charter schools and state and district virtual schools” (Pape 2005).

A big motivation for virtual schooling was to provide “instructional equity” for students in schools that are unable to secure teachers in specialized areas (Joiner 2002). In the state of Iowa, for instance, a shortage of science teachers in rural areas have pushed school administrators to be creative with their course offerings. The Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (2005a) researched and presented ten case studies of good practice in offering science courses to students in rural areas. Each case illustrates the careful considerations and planning to integrate laboratory experiences using different technologies as well as efficient assessment procedures.

Virtual schooling has also become a favorable option for home-schooled and private school students as well as advanced placement and at risk students (Joiner 2002; National Education Association, undated). For instance, the Virtual High School (1998-2005b) offers dual-credit courses which provide enriching and challenging experiences for advanced students while rewarding them with both high school and college-level credits simultaneously. Many institutions of higher education have also collaborated with high schools to offer such opportunities. Iowa Community Colleges Online (, which is a collaborative effort by a consortium of seven community colleges, is one example as illustrated in the reported case study by Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (2005b). Additionally, institutions like Graceland University (, visited 27-July-05) see it as an opportunity to serve the community (Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching 2005c).

While little data exists on the impact of the emerging trend of virtual schooling on student achievement, a meta-analysis by Cavanaugh and her colleagues (2004) indicated that “distance education can have the same effect on measures of student academic achievement when compared to traditional instruction” (p.4). Meanwhile, other online educational providers are beginning to look at levels of engagement, levels of knowledge gained, and course completion rate as measurable indicators of success (Pape 2005).


Cavanaugh, C., Gillian, K.J., Kromrey, J., Hess, M. & Blomeyer, R. (2004) The effects of distance education on K-12 student outcomes: A meta-analysis, (ED-01-CO-0011) Illinois, Learning Point Associates. (Visited 8-July-05)

Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (2005a) Good practices to inform Iowa Learning Online, (Visited 8-July-05).

Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (2005b) Chemistry: Blending virtual and home-based labs, (Visited 8-July-05).

Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching (2005c) Psychology: Social science discussion labs at a distance, (Visited 8-July-05).

Concord Consortium, The (2005) Online learning, (Visited 8-July-05).

Florida Virtual High School (2004) Welcome to Florida Virtual High School, (Visited 8-July-05).

Graceland University. (2004) Welcome, (Visited 8-July-05).

Illinois Virtual High School (2005) Welcome, (Visited 8-July-05).

Iowa Communications Network (undated) Connecting Iowans to the world, (Visited 8-July-05).

Joiner, Lottie L. (September 2002) A virtual tour of virtual schools: What are online schools really like? One thing they all have in common is growing popularity, American School Board Journal. (Visited 8-July-05)

Kentucky Virtual High School (2005) Welcome, (Visited 8-July-05).

National Education Association (undated) Guide to online high school courses, (Visited 8-July-05).

Pape, Liz (July 2005) Going virtual: High school on the web: What you need to know about offering online courses, American School Board Journal, (Visited 8-July-05).

Virtual High School (1998-2005a) Welcome to Virtual High School, (Visited 8-July-05).

Virtual High School (1998-2005b) Academics, (Visited 8-July-05).

Useful links

The Concord Consortium e-Learning Model for Online Courses
A US based nonprofit educational research and development organization providing information for people dealing with online courses. Also include links to courses to help practitioners with online teaching issues. (Visited 11-July-05)

eDoc, an electronic portfolio system
eDoc is being developed at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, USA. This site provides more info about eDoc, including links to a demo site where you can try out different types of electronic portfolios developed under eDoc, publications on the eDoc project, and a link (under Publications) to eDoc discussions on ISU Wiki - a collaborative web site. If the site doesn't answer all your questions then feel free to contact the eDoc strategic team at

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) E-Learning
NCREL provides links to resources on e-learning on this page. Links to analysis and reports on e-learning show the emerging trend of virtual schooling in the US. (Visited 11-July-05)

Teacher Education Goes Into Virtual Schooling (TEGIVS)
TEGIVS, funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary (FIPSE), US Department of Education aims to prepare preservice teachers for virtual schooling by integrating a comprehensive virtual curriculum component. This resource page in the TEGIVS web-site provides numerous links to articles on virtual schooling. (Visited 11-July-05)

State of Wisconsin, Department of Public Instruction
This site provides links and comparison charts of virtual schools in the US. It examines the differences, similarities, benefits, and challenges of online programs and virtual schools. (Visited 11-July-05)

First College
This online high school was founded in January 2006 by Shan Jayran and husband John Davies - see for more info. (Visited 28-Sept-06)

Nisai education
The Nisai Virtual Academy (NVA)... supplies live 'virtual lessons'... (visited 3-Feb-07)

IWBNet provides some info about 'digital schools' and are working with folk in Australia and New Zealand to explore the concept further. (visited 3-Feb-07)