With more than 12 years of professional online learning experience, Houston C. Tucker shares key tips on transforming virtual schools

transform-virtual-schoolsFull-time, online public schools originated as alternatives to traditional education approaches and were even bandied about as ways to revolutionize the learning paradigm. Now, they too are in need of transformation, because the results so far are mixed at best.

The question now is: “Can they correct their course and fulfill their promise?”

I believe the answer is “yes” but it will take a re-imagining of the model. And, I am not talking about a progression toward blended schools — they too have their own problems.

Instead, while there are many issues that would need addressing, I want to center in on three of the key, critical elements required for virtual schools to be transformed.

(Next page: 3 critical requirements to transform virtual schools)

1. Be a specialist, not a generalist

Virtual schools mirror their brick-and-mortar counterparts too closely by attempting to be all things to all students. Peruse any virtual school web site and you will see they believe they can serve anyone (as long as they live in the state) — gifted, struggling, homebound, etc.

A successful virtual school is one that knows who it wants to serve, and serves them well. This means they may have to encourage students outside of this “service circle” to enroll elsewhere. However, reducing the service spectrum does not mean reducing overall enrollment numbers.

Quite the contrary. By becoming a “specialist” and providing an exceptional experience, other families will take notice.

2. Make the human connection

The learning may be online but the experience should not be virtual. Humans are social beings, and they crave interaction, and shared experiences. We desire to belong to like-minded tribes. Focus on making these connections, and a transformation will occur.

This goes beyond the typical field trips, online class connects, and teacher office hours.

3. Make retention a culture, not a strategy

The retention rates at virtual schools is disturbing. Far too many of them spend too much time focused on attracting new students instead of taking care of the ones they already have. They wait until March or April to engage in trying to retain students instead of understanding that retention begins the moment a family first says “Yes.”

Retention strategies will not move the needle, a retention culture can.

The virtual school that embraces these concepts will be the one that leads us into the future.

Houston C. Tucker is owner, founder, and Chief Fig of Figment Consulting — a firm that specializes in building a remarkable experience within virtual learning, blended learning, eLearning, and online learning.