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Can virtual schools benefit K–12 students?

Virtual learning can provide access to schooling for those who are limited by time, location or other factors, particularly mature-age students who want to further their education while juggling other duties. But are virtual classrooms also beneficial for students in the K–12 education system? What are the drawbacks? And who can benefit most from the technology?

What is a virtual school?

Virtual learning is essentially online learning. It uses digital online technology to deliver lessons, training and other teaching resources to students for whom face-to-face teaching isn’t available or practical. Virtual teaching models can vary – from independent self-paced learning through to highly interactive lessons where the student is in regular, real-time communication with teachers and other students.

Who can benefit from virtual schools?

Virtual schools can have a number of benefits for K–12 students and teachers. In particular:

  • Helping students catch up: Virtual schools can provide a learning boost for students in need of special tuition. For example, virtual lessons that use game-based scenarios and visual presentations can be useful for students who have trouble staying focused or engaged in a classroom with other students present.
  • Advanced teaching: Virtual classes can be ideal for students who want to take more advanced courses outside their regular daytime classes.
  • Distance learning: Virtual schools can provide digital learning content to students who can’t travel to a physical classroom. This might include rural-based students and students with mobility issues.
  • Cost savings: Beyond the cost of a computer and internet connection, virtual schools are usually cheaper to run than traditional K–12 schools.

Virtual schools can also improve teaching quality by giving students access to an almost infinite range of learning resources. This includes online videos, digital libraries and virtual communities where students can connect and collaborate with local peers, as well as students from other countries and cultures.

What are the drawbacks?

A potential downside is the lack of social communication compared to face-to-face, classroom-based instruction. However, technologies such as video chat and virtual reality (VR) can put the student in a learning environment that provides a similar level of sensory feedback to a regular classroom – helping them cultivate the same types of meaningful relationships with teachers and peers as they would on a school campus.

As virtual and remote teaching technologies become ever more advanced, it’s likely that more students will benefit from the ability of virtual schools to both support – and substitute for – traditional K–12 classroom teaching.

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