Students of the Screen

With students at home, K-12 “blended learning” platforms are needed

This month, we’ve discussed some of the larger organizations’ shift to virtual learning platforms in the wake of stay-at-home orders and the like (be sure to watch out for a sidebar on this topic in our June issue!). Here, an advance look at an organization and service that consolidates much of these ideas and learning techniques in one place: The Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance. This group practices virtual learning from the foundational levels of K-12, which is more important than ever with many American schools shut down and turning to online platforms to keep their students stimulated.

Combining over 150 years of online and blended learning operational experience, the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance is an association of the chiefs of some of the most innovative virtual programs in the US. Consisting largely of leading state virtual schools, and several outstanding consortia, the member organizations serve well over a quarter of a million online course enrollments annually, provide their districts and students with over 2,200 active, highly-qualified teachers trained in online instruction, supply blended learning services to their constituents, and conduct research to validate the value of online learning.  The Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA) is a 501c3 educational nonprofit organization.

Blending learning is a developing form of education and training that combines online and experiential, in-classroom methods. A textbook example of “modern-meets-traditional”, this method is on the rise in a number of states. Programs like Virtual Virginia provide a rubric for high school and college courses in economics and personal finance, while North Carolina has its own entire blended learning public school system for the high school level. Michigan Virtual offers trade skills training programs among its curriculum.

Each year the Leadership Alliance chiefs explore topics critical to providing high quality online and blended learning by examining current research, trends and analysis in digital learning, as well as sharing resources, services, and expertise. Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance (VLLA) also partners with researchers and educational organizations to gather and provide data across more than a dozen states represented by the VLLA.

Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance members leverage many ways, including but not limited to program operational costs and budgeting, professional development for member executives and staff, content and technology sharing, short- and long-term strategic planning, career and college readiness, board development and stakeholder communication, developing communications and marketing strategies and IT infrastructure.

The fifteen organizational members who comprise the Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance work with rural schools and students in numerous states across the U.S. While there are significant geographic and population differences between the states, a common theme among the Alliance members is the importance of these online programs’ ability to serve rural students with quality courses and instruction. Rural schools face a number of issues and obstacles in their effort to provide quality, comprehensive, educational programs to their students.  Often the school is the hub and focal point in these rural communities and in many cases, because of these challenges, the very existence of the school itself is at risk.  These challenges include the following though this list is not intended to be all-inclusive:

  • Declining enrollments (small communities w/ little opportunity to rebound)
  • High socioeconomically disadvantaged populations
  • High transportation costs
  • Lack of computer and Internet access in homes
  • Transient students
  • Low teacher pay and housing challenges
  • High teacher turnover
  • Scarcity of teachers for advanced courses
  • Limited course offerings (focus on courses required for graduation)
  • Geographic Isolation

Online and blended learning programs have been helping rural students and schools in a variety ways for years, but for many educators and advocates, the important instructional role they play has not been front and center in discussions about how to improve rural education. “Many reports on rural education give little attention to digital learning, and to the extent they discuss digital it is to note either infrastructure needs or the potential of digital learning, with little focus on instruction, outcomes, or exemplars.

COVID-19 School Support Initiatives and Resources

Organizations across the Alliance have worked tirelessly to provide resources to schools.  Some are available to schools just in their state, other resources are available to all.

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