More states are passing laws that require students to take at least one online course.

About a year ago, the Virginia Beach School Board considered a requirement that all students take an online course before graduation.

It’d be a good experience, advocates argued—another feather in graduates’ digital caps. Opponents worried that it would penalize students who didn’t have computers at home.

Eventually, board members tabled the proposal. But now, it doesn’t matter. The
General Assembly has turned a similar idea into a statewide requirement.
Starting with ninth-graders in fall 2013, all students pursuing a standard or advanced-studies diploma must take some sort of online course or part of a course to graduate in Virginia.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Bill Johnsen, director of instructional technology for Virginia Beach schools. “The state follows us.”

The requirement isn’t exactly like the one proposed for Virginia Beach, but it’s close. At their core, both stem from a belief that today’s students need the experience of taking coursework online to do well in college and the workplace—two areas that are increasingly using the internet for classes and training.

“Digital learning, this movement is being infused in schools across the country,” said Javaid Siddiqi, deputy secretary of education for the state. “We want to make sure all students are exposed to this mode of instruction.”

But while Virginia Beach’s idea involved courses worth at least half a credit, the state’s allows for noncredit-bearing courses. Students also can satisfy the requirement by completing a digital unit within a brick-and-mortar course, Siddiqi said.

The new law makes Virginia the fifth state to require some form of online learning before students graduate.

Michigan, Alabama, Florida, and Idaho currently require a virtual learning credit for high school graduation. Michigan was the first state to implement such a requirement in 2006, followed by Alabama in 2008.

“Michigan knew students would need 21st-century skills,” said Allison Powell, vice president of state and district services at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL). “Students not only receive content in an online course, but they also get skills [such as] communicating and using those actual technology tools.”

In Virginia Beach, officials said it’s tough to say how much work they’ll have to do to prepare for fall 2013.